Skipper hits second century in as many matches as England put in polished performance
Alistair Cook continued his excellent form in ODIs as England overcame Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. He was backed up well by Ravi Bopara, who scored 58, and Steven Finn, as he once more produced an excellent bowling performance, finishing with figures of 4-34 from his 10 overs.
Cook followed up his career-best 137 on Monday with a disciplined 102, as he and Kevin Pietersen put on a half-century partnership for the opening stand. Although Pietersen has lacked his usual fluency, the pair have begun their reign as the new opening partnership well, racking up two stands of over 50 in their first two games together. Pietersen, though, was once again undone by spin, this time from the in-form Saeed Ajmal. Jonathan Trott came in at number three and made a good start, making his way to 23 before driving loosely at Aizaz Cheema and edging a catch through to Umar Akmal. This reunited Cook and Ravi Bopara, who had put on over 100 together just two days earlier. They picked up where they had left off, working around Pakistan’s slower bowlers in the middle overs, taking England to 200 within 40 overs. Cook brought up his second century of the series, having hit 10 boundaries along the way, but couldn’t take his score beyond 102 as Shahid Afridi snapped up a simple catch off his own bowling. However, it was a brilliant, composed performance by the England captain, giving only one chance; a dropped catch when he was on 28- a mistake which proved to be extremely costly for the home side. Eoin Morgan joined Bopara at the wicket, tasked with supplying some fireworks in the last ten overs. Although he only managed one six- the only six of England’s innings- he finished unbeaten on 25, as Bopara was caught off the final ball of the innings for an excellent 58. Pakistan’s bowlers looked largely ineffective, with Aizaz Cheema proving to be the most dangerous, finishing with figures of 2-49.
The Pakistan response began slowly, with the score on a meagre 33 after the first ten overs. Opening partners Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat continued at their leisurely pace, taking the score to 61, before Jimmy Anderson had Hafeez caught for 26, ending what had been a lacklustre period of cricket. Azhar Ali became Farhat’s new partner, having replaced Asad Shafiq in the Pakistan starting eleven following his golden duck in the previous match. Farhat, though, was to fall soon after in bizarre circumstances. A Stuart Broad delivery cannoned into the Pakistan opener’s pad, following which Farhat set off on a run despite having little clue where the ball had actually gone. Broad was aware and capitalised on the foolish mistake, running out Farhat just three runs short of a half century. Younus Khan came and went quickly as Samit Patel dismissed him LBW for just 5. Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, came to the crease with his side in trouble at 104-3 after 25 overs and with England’s spinners doing an exceptional job, bowling economically whilst still looking threatening. It came as little surprise when Patel uprooted Ali’s off stump to claim his second scalp of the day, dismissing Pakistan’s number three for a wary 31. At the 35th over the 100 runs required looked achievable, particularly with Misbah and Umar Akmal in the middle and with the dangerous Shahid Afridi still to come. However, it began to look unlikely when, after a brief partnership, Akmal was dismissed for 21, thanks to a stunning catch by Samit Patel in the covers off the bowling of Steven Finn. Afridi’s arrival at the wicket rekindled hopes for Pakistan, as he smashed Patel for six and followed it up with a four through the covers, but Pakistan’s hopes were short lived as Anderson clean bowled him for 18. When Abdur Rehman was bowled by Finn Pakistan looked all but done, and it was confirmed when Misbah smashed Broad straight up, with Craig Kieswetter taking an outstanding catch. Finn mopped up Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal to finish with four wickets, as England went 2-0 up in the series.
England’s performances in the first two ODIs have perhaps contrasted with their performances in the recent whitewash suffered by the test side against the same opposition. The batsmen have performed well, with Alistair Cook and Ravi Bopara having particularly stood out. The bowling, whilst perhaps the stronger aspect of what was overall a very disappointing test series, has been much more disciplined and has looked a more threatening proposition for the opposing side. I would still like to see Jade Dernbach in this England side, though. He looked like a very good prospect for England- someone with good variations who is excellent at the death. Having said that, the current bowling unit is producing the goods, with Steven Finn bowling excellently and so, perhaps, having some continuity (particularly in the bowlers) is not a bad idea. The test side has a very settled bowling attack, with Anderson, Broad and Swann having been in the side for a long time and with Bresnan and Tremlett establishing themselves well. The ODI side has never really found a settled attack with players, such as Dernbach, Woakes, Bresnan etc in and out of the side. Constant change gives the players limited chance to bond as a unit and form a world-beating team- something which this England side surely must be aiming for. As they have shown, the quality is certainly there. Now they need to find some consistency.