Despite a convincing win on Monday, England must get busier with the bat if they are stay ahead in the series, says Sam Stow.
After a poor showing in the three Tests that preceded the first ODI in Abu Dhabi, it was both pleasing and somewhat of a surprise to see England run out such comfortable winners. Particularly as, Alastair Cook and Steven Finn aside, there was nothing remarkable about England’s efforts in a match that Pakistan were tipped to win.
That the Three Lions walked away with a convincing victory was largely down to the skipper – who continues to defy his critics, and averages well over 50 since returning to the side – and the increasingly impressive Finn who is now pushing hard for a starting berth in all forms of the game.
Elsewhere, there were some solid performances. Ravi Bopara, though nervy at times, gave valuable support to his skipper and Samit Patel once again showed that he is a very capable allrounder at this level.
The overall aptitude of the middle-order remains a worry, however, and neither Kevin Pietersen nor Craig Kieswetter (who both played uncharasteristically ponderous innings before being put out of their misery) have benefited from a change of scenery. Meanwhile, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan continue to be bamboozled by the vagaries of Ajmal and co.
It could be time for a shake-up – and with both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow in the wings, the squad isn’t short of exciting alternatives – but England, arch-conservatives when it comes to selection issues, are very unlikely to change a winning side.
What they must change, however, is their overall approach. If Cook, the recognised ‘anchor’, can score at nigh on a run-a-ball, there is no excuse for KP (who has averaged just 26 in the last two years, lest we forget) to plod.
The notoriously nervous starter shouldn’t be encouraged to throw his wicket away, but subcontinental conditions demand a brisk scoring rate early on, when the going is easiest. Pietersen is a powerful player and a natural timer of the ball, who looked suited to opening spot in last year’s World Cup, and a simple, aggressive approach would be best for both the team and an individual who seems to be over-thinking his cricket right now.
More generally, a busier approach with the bat would benefit England. Morgan and (surprisingly) Trott have both struggled to find a successful method on this tour, oscillating between staid defence and somewhat desperate attack with little success.
More than anything, Cook’s brilliant innings was an example of how to keep the scoreboard ticking over. 60 per cent of his runs came from a combination of clever footwork, deft use of the wrists and hard running, and having proved already that they can win a game without a maximum, smart rather than smashing cricket could be enough to secure a repeat of Monday’s result.
Our betting partners at Betfair analyse the odds for tomorrow’s contest.
Pakistan retain favourite status at 1.84 with England 2.16. Despite maintaining belief in the ‘home’ side we have to recognise the importance of the toss in matches at Sheikh Zayed Stadium and for that reason the gulf is too large. It should not be forgotten that although England have a weakness against spin, Pakistan have one against seam and swing and both sides can look equally foolish when they play in hostile conditions.
Shahid Afridi was the bet to go for on Monday under the auspices of ‘Any Other’, but he is likely to be promoted to individual billing and could go off at around 6.00. Elsewhere, we do not fancy either Pakistan opener, Mohammad Hafeez and Imran Farhat. On first glance they look to have a healthy partnership, averaging just shy of 40 for the first wicket during their time together. But more in-depth analysis (filtering matches against only the Test nations) sees that figure drop to 29. Lay them for 30 or more at around 1.90.
As for England’s batsman, we’ll say no thanks to Kevin Pietersen at around 4.50 and Eoin Morgan at bigger prices. Both could be worth laying for a 50. Alastair Cook, following his rather splendid century, showed Pietersen how to do it and deserves favourite status.