England win by 5 runs
England rounded off a terrific one day leg of their Arab adventure with a nerve-jangling victory in Abu Dhabi to claim their second series of the winter.
It seems apt to begin with England, who deserve enormous credit for the way they turned this tour around. After the Test whitewash there were many who fully expected them to continue to be beaten all through the one dayers, instead they tasted defeat only once – last Thursday, a game they probably should have won as well – and dished out some thrashings of their own. This game wasn’t one of them, but it was a testament to how far this side has come under Andy Flower’s stewardship. Not only did they hold their nerve superbly well, there was a sense that even as Pakistan looked odds-on favourites with three overs to go, England would still pull this one off. Maybe that feeling is unique to this particular correspondent, but in crunch situations this team is perhaps the most mentally strong in the world.
That they managed to get in a position to win the game in the first place was down almost entirely to Kevin Pietersen, who has now played two superbly timed one day innings in the space of a week. First his 130 in the final ODI, now this effort, where he became only the second man to carry his bat through a completed international T20 innings. It was evident from quite early on that he had worked out the pitch wasn’t going to be full of runs, and adjusted himself accordingly. With an honourable mention to Samit Patel, whose quickfire 16 added some much-needed impetus, it was Pietersen’s massive six off the final ball which ultimately proved the difference.
With the ball England began somewhat erratically – Steven Finn has struggled in this format – but the spinners dragged them back into the game, taking a combined 1/38 from their eight overs. As the series reached it’s climax, Stuart Broad and Jade Dernbach bowled three sensational overs to see their side home. We have been critical of Dernbach in the past, but his performances on this tour have gone somewhat under the radar. The bowling in all forms of the game now looks very well stocked indeed.
Much like England will have felt after the first match in this series, Pakistan will see this one as a game that got away. 23 from 18 balls with 7 wickets in hand should pose no problems nowadays, yet they wilted under pressure and managed to completely blow such an excellent position. They too were excellent with the ball, as even Aizaz Cheema performed admirably, but when a result is so close attention turns back to potentially crucial moments. Cheema’s final ball full toss to Pietersen is the obvious one, but Umar Gul’s filthy leg-side wide which disappeared to the fine leg boundary should not be forgotten, nor should any number of lapses in the field. Both teams have superb bowling attacks, England’s fielders have backed theirs up, whereas Pakistan’s, in general, have not.
Their batsmen have struggled for most of the tour, and since England’s top order started to actually do their job to a competent degree that weakness has been ruthlessly exposed. Mohammed Hafeez dropped his batting form during the first Test and hasn’t been able to locate it since. His tame first ball dismissal was perhaps testament to the heavy workload he’s had to cope with throughout. The big problem in the T20’s has been a series of really stupid decisions at important times – in this game alone both Asad Shafiq and Shahid Afridi ran themselves out at critical moments while Umar Akmal panicked under pressure.
Criticism of captain Misbah has been increasing with every defeat, and calls for Afridi to re-re-take the captaincy are reaching a crescendo. How quickly things change; less than a month ago he was being hailed as a hero after masterminding such a sensational Test victory. Perhaps some of the criticism is justified; in T20 especially he has a tendency to become a bit too becalmed, but he has been a steadying influence on a successful team since he took over and that should not be forgotten.
England now head to Sri Lanka for a stand alone two-Test series, which nobody quite understands. Eoin Morgan has paid the price for a comically awful winter while Big Samit’s surprisingly solid efforts have got him a place on that plane. Against lesser spinners and with the way they have improved in the shorter format here you would expect them to wipe the floor with their hosts. If they get rolled over by Ajantha Mendis’ medium-pace masquerading as mystery spin we aren’t going to be very happy at all. As for Pakistan, they have some Asia Cup games coming up, where they face Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India in quick succession. Despite the latter’s Virat Kohli-led demolition of the former this morning, Pakistan still look much the stronger of the Asian contingent and should be able to bounce back straight away.