England have blossomed - Flower
England’s fortunes in tomorrow’s final Twenty20 match may cement in many minds the qualified success, or failure, of their eight weeks against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates.
But for team director Andy Flower, it is already clear his England team have made significant strides during their time in the desert.
Should England prevail at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, a 2-1 comeback victory in cricket’s shortest format will give them a tangible success to add to their 4-0 one-day international series win.
That has helped, to some degree, ease the disappointment of their 3-0 Test series defeat, the first Tests England played as world number ones.
Flower does not believe the short-format wins do enough to erase the pain of Test defeat completely, but he is encouraged by the improvements made against Pakistan’s spinners by Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook.
“That first game we put ourselves in a very strong position to win it,” said Flower.
“We had 35 to get off the last five overs with seven wickets in hand. Then there was some really good ’death’ bowling from (Saeed) Ajmal and (Umar) Gul that ensured that we didn’t.
“But that was a great experience, for our young players especially.
“In this game we won last night, I thought Bairstow’s innings was outstanding - very skilful, and very powerful as well. That’s a very good combination to have.”
The England team director now has 24 hours to consider his Test squad to face Sri Lanka, due to be announced on Tuesday, and Bairstow can only have enhanced his chances of forcing a way in.
“A young guy like Jonny Bairstow has shown that he has learned from the first Twenty20 game and showed a slightly different method against Gul and against the spin,” Flower said.
“Those are good signs for me as a coach to see. The guys are learning and embedding those lessons - that’s a very healthy thing for us in the future.”
At 22, Bairstow is bound to still be fine-tuning his game.
But others of a different vintage have had to rethink their methods too, after initially coming up short against off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and slow left-armer Abdur Rehman here.
“I think we’ve learned some good lessons from the Test experience,” said Flower.
“I think you can see some of the learning coming out in some of the batsmen at the moment - which is great to see, because it would be very disappointing to go through those tough experiences and not come out the other side as better players.
“I think some of them are coming out the other side as better players. A good example would be Kevin Pietersen, who has turned round his form but also has shown us a different method in the one-dayers.
“Alastair Cook also had a tough Test series - like most of our batsmen - but played superbly in the one-day series to show the requisite skills you need in these conditions.”
Two Tests in Sri Lanka will be an ideal stage for Cook, Pietersen and others to demonstrate their new-found assurance against spin. England's squad is due to be announced at 9.30am GMT on Tuesday.
Before then, though, there is one more match to be won on this tour - a mission which will have consequences for English prospects on another trip to Sri Lanka, to defend their World Twenty20 crown in September.
Flower knows the exposure to high-class spin, on Asian surfaces, can only help both Bairstow and Jos Buttler.
“The experience that those guys will have gained in a pressure situation against very good opposition in these conditions will be absolutely vital to their growth and to our growth as a side,” he said. “We have to have, at this stage, an eye on the World Cup.
“How we play against these spin bowlers in these conditions - and how quickly we learn - is vital to our chances in Sri Lanka.”