So, we are seemingly back where we were at the start of the year. England have flattered to deceive and then, just as quickly, deceived to flatter once more. An ignominious Test whitewash at the hands of Pakistan followed by a glorious one-day whitewashing of the same opponents is a truly remarkable turnaround, especially considering that fifty-over cricket in this country has long lagged behind it’s five-day superior.
Frustratingly, the much-improved performances in the one-day arena can be accredited to one specific area. Where the bowling department was very efficient, just as during the Tests, the batting released its shackles and, without entering the realms of recklessness, seems itself again.
By way of his prolific, unfussy return of 323 runs in four innings, Alastair Cook revived Ashes memories and earned a prolonged stay in the United Arab Emirates as a reward, staying on for the Twenty20 series as cover for Ravi Bopara.
At the start of the young Essex opener’s career, involvement across three formats was unthinkable. Since then, he has not completely revamped his methods though. Instead, there is a confidence that his best is good for every situation. It is a trait that, thankfully, appears to be infectious.
Bopara’s two fifties played a big part in the opening victories of the series, and he will certainly be a big part of Andy Flower’s limited-overs plans, even if his temperament may still be too fragile for Tests. Even Eoin Morgan, who looked disastrously lost last month, will have learnt a great deal.
The Irishman’s first ball yesterday spoke volumes about his mindset. Abdur Rehman, the nemesis that was responsible for England’s nightmarish capitulation to 72 all out in the second Test, hung a delivery outside off-stump. It was the same delivery that had breached Morgan’s gate that fateful afternoon in Abu Dhabi. However, it was the not same batsman. This one leant forward, uninhibited by whites and close fielders, to punch the ball through the off side, scampering a couple. Much better. Much more like the real Morgan.
Most heartening was Kevin Pietersen, distant and enigmatic off the field during the Tests and decidedly out-of-sorts on it, exploding back to his imposing best with two landslide-sealing centuries. Battering successive boundaries off the hapless Junaid Khan just after reaching three figures in Dubai yesterday, he bristled with intent. It was reminiscent of the start of 2005, when a skunk-haired boy from Natal proved to his former compatriots that he had grown up into a truly world-class batting force.
Pietersen’s comments upon swooping the most inevitable of man-of-the-match awards last night were as revealing as they were encouraging. Asked how he had managed to return to form so spectacularly, the 31 year-old, bound for the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League, was composed, refined and gracious.
“I am at such a good place in my life that I don’t worry about my batting,” he told Sky Sports’ Nick Knight. “If I get runs, then great. If I don’t, then I don’t. No one in the game trains harder than me and that’s what I fall back on. At the end of my career, I’ll be able to look back and say that I got the best out of my talent.
“I enjoyed this evening - the calmness of the chase. I'm still not picking [Saeed] Ajmal after two months here but it's good fun."
For the mighty KP to admit uncertainty is as much of an indication of his mental serenity as it is a compliment to Ajmal, the chief tormentor of Andrew Strauss’ cohort. However, where England tried merely to survive his long spells in the Tests, they have been far more positive while carving out a 4-0 run.
Some of what went on in January conjured horrible memories of Adelaide in December 2007, when England produced the Jekyll and Hyde of batting showings. On the opening two days, they compiled a magnificent 551-6 on the back of Paul Collingwood’s fighting, swiping 206. Then, in the second innings, everyone played as though they were wearing straitjackets. Only 49 runs were eked out of Shane Warne’s 32 overs as the tourists were extracted for an excruciating, claustrophobic 129, grabbing defeat from the jaws of a morale-boosting draw.
England’s success yesterday, and over the course of the past fortnight, has been two-fold. They have laid some sturdy foundations for their attempt to hijack the 2015 World Cup and leapt to fifth in the ODI standings. Crucially, they have also learnt that in order to remain at the summit of the Test rankings, self-assurance is essential. After a glance at Pietersen, back on top of the world, they shouldn’t need much persuading.