England's embattled cricketers finished their eight- week tour of Pakistan on a positive note last night when they snatched a surprise six-run victory from the hosts. With the five-match series already lost, the win was nothing more than consolation for England but it once again highlighted how competitive they can be when the mood is right.
The challenge for the absent captain, Michael Vaughan, and Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is to get the one-day team playing with the same intensity when it matters. On too many occasions England fail to play to their full potential when the pressure is on, and it is consistency that wins World Cups.
"It was a nice way to finish the tour," admitted Marcus Trescothick, England's stand-in captain, whose side ended with a 3-2 disadvantage to Pakistan. "We were special in the field. We bowled really, really well for the second game in a row and fielded quite nicely. It allows us to return home on a bit of a high.
"The one-day series, like the Test series, was a case of 'what could have been'. The fourth game was probably the killer for us. We could have won that game if we had batted a bit better but, bar the first match, we did not perform well enough with the bat in any of the games. We are missing important people but we are not using that as an excuse. We are without Michael [Vaughan] and K P [Kevin Pietersen] but we have still got some very good players in our side and it is up to them to keep performing."
For much of the final one-dayer England looked set for another heavy loss, and a 4-1 series defeat. Pakistan were resting Inzamam-ul-Haq, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami but totals of 206 rarely win 50-over matches unless the pitch is dicey, the batting of the team in second is dreadful or the bowling is brilliant. England's victory came via a combination of all three.
The pitch, situated next to that used for Monday's low-scoring encounter, was not a minefield but, as the scores suggest, it was difficult to bat on. No England batsman looked comfortable on the surface and each who spent more than 45 minutes at the crease got out as soon as they attempted to be positive. Liam Plunkett was the only player who slogged successfully and the 14 runs he struck off the final three balls of England's innings ultimately won his side the game.
Pakistan's batting after the 31st over was awful. Nobody took on the responsibility of winning the game and they all seemed to leave it to Shahid Afridi to get them out of trouble. But Afridi failed to deliver. He was bowled for four by a James Anderson yorker.
Anderson was the pick of England's bowlers and it was encouraging to see him delivering well again. He swung the ball at pace and bowled it in the right areas. This was his best bowling display for England in a couple of years. Stephen Harmison and Ian Blackwell also finished in impressive style. Harmison was hostile and quick while Blackwell bowled with intelligence.
Following the early loss of Trescothick and Matthew Prior, England fans would have been forgiven for fearing the worst. But Andrew Strauss, Vikram Solanki, Andrew Flintoff and Paul Collingwood grafted hard for their runs. Solanki was England's most fluent batsmen, striking six boundaries in his 49, while Collingwood scrambled runs in his usual workmanlike manner. Flintoff, playing solely as a batsman because of a minor ankle injury, hit one huge six but his 39 runs took 73 balls.
Each batsman found it particularly difficult to deal with the spinners. Flintoff's responsible innings ended when he attempted to hit Rana Naved-ul-Hasan out of the ground and Blackwell fell to the next delivery. Geraint Jones and Collingwood were run out frantically chasing runs and England looked set for no more than 190.
But Plunkett changed this when he struck Abdul Razzaq's final three deliveries for four, four and six. At the time England would have only hoped it would make a difference. In the end it did.
Scoreboard from Rawalpindi
England won toss
*M E Trescothick b Mohammad Asif 1
6 min, 5 balls
M J Prior c Salman Butt b Mohammad Asif 9
25 min, 15 balls, 1 four
A J Strauss st Kamran Akmal
b Arshad Khan 26
72 min, 57 balls, 3 fours
V S Solanki c Younis Khan b Shahid Afridi 49
114 min, 86 balls, 6 fours
A Flintoff b Naved-ul-Hasan 39
94 min, 73 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
P D Collingwood run out (Salman
Butt/Naved-ul-Hasan TV replay) 33
53 min, 46 balls, 1 four
I D Blackwell lbw b Naved-ul-Hasan 0
1 min, 1 ball
ÝG O Jones run out (Yasir
Hameed/Kamran Akmal TV replay) 3
8 min, 7 balls
L E Plunkett not out 24
19 min, 12 balls, 3 fours, 1 six
S D Udal c Yasir Hameed b Abdul Razzaq 0
5 min, 2 balls
S J Harmison not out 0
2 min, 0 balls
Extras (lb10 w8 nb4) 22
Total (for 9, 205 min, 50 overs) 206
Fall: 1-3 (Trescothick) 2-21 (Prior) 3-52 (Strauss) 4-117 (Solanki) 5-161 (Flintoff) 6-161 (Blackwell) 7-169 (Jones) 8-181 (Collingwood) 9-192 (Udal).
Bowling: Naved-ul-Hasan 9-0-37-2 (nb2 w3) (6-0-20-0, 3-0-17-2); Mohammad Asif 7-1-14-2 (w3) (one spell); Abdul Razzaq 7-0-46-1 (nb1) (6-0-31-0, 1-0-15-1); Arshad Khan 8-1-19-1 (w1) (4-1-12-1, 4-0-7-0); Shahid Afridi 10-0-37-1 (w1); Shoaib Malik 6-0-30-0 (nb1), Danish Kaneria 3-0-13-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Power Play 1 (overs 1-10): 31-2; PP2 (overs 11-15): 46-2; PP3 (overs 16-20): 62-3. 50: 76 min, 100 balls. 100: 122 min, 178 balls. 150: 164 min, 258 balls. 200: 204 min, 303 balls. Super sub Danish Kaneria replaced Mohammad Asif after 42 overs at 142-5.
Salman Butt b Harmison 6
13 min, 15 balls, 1 four
ÝKamran Akmal c Trescothick b Anderson 11
25 min, 13 balls, 2 fours
Yasir Hameed st Jones b Udal 57
112 min, 105 balls, 9 fours
Mohammad Yousuf c Anderson
b Blackwell 54
148 min, 79 balls, 3 fours
*Younis Khan c Collingwood b Blackwell 15
38 min, 32 balls, 1 four
Shoaib Malik c Solanki b Blackwell 8
21 min, 13 balls, 1 four
Shahid Afridi b Anderson 4
19 min, 10 balls
Abdul Razzaq c Trescothick b Anderson 4
15 min, 5 balls
Naved-ul-Hasan c Collingwood
b Anderson 13
18 min, 13 balls, 1 six
Arshad Khan not out 12
16 min, 13 balls, 1 four
Danish Kaneria not out 2
6 min, 3 balls
Extras (lb3 w10 nb1) 14
Total (for 9, 220 min, 50 overs) 200
Fall: 1-18 (Salman Butt) 2-21 (Kamran Akmal) 3-122 (Yasir H ameed) 4-152 (Younis Khan) 5-159 (Mohammad Yousuf) 6-167 (Shoaib Malik) 7-170 (Shahid Afridi) 8-177 (Abdul Razzaq), 9-191 (Naved-ul-Hasan).
Bowling: Anderson 10-1-48-4 (w2) (7-1-29-1, 3-0-19-3); Harmison 10-3-27-1 (w4) (4-2-10-1, 3-1-7-0, 2-0-8-0, 1-0-2-0); Plunkett 8-0-45-0 (nb1 w3) (3-0-21-0, 1-0-6-0, 1-0-5-0, 3-0-13-0); Collingwood 5-0-19-0 (w1) (one spell); Blackwell 10-3-29-3 (5-2-16-0, 2-1-3-0, 3-0-10-3); Udal 7-0-29-1 (5-0-17-1, 2-0-12-0).
Progress: Super sub J M Anderson replaced A Flintoff between innings. Power Play 1 (overs 1-10): 36-2; PP2 (overs 11-15): 62-2; PP3 (overs 16-20): 81-2. 50: 49 min, 68 balls. 100: 109 min, 158 balls. 150: 161 min, 234 balls. 200: 219 min, 300 balls.
Man of the match: J M Anderson
Player of the Series: Kamran Akmal.
Umpires: A L Hill (NZ) and R E Koertzen (SA).