Exceptional England bounce back
Alastair Cook and Steven Finn excelled as England secured a morale-boosting 130-run victory over Pakistan at Abu Dhabi in the first of four one-day internationals.
Rated as underdogs heading into this series after a 3-0 defeat in the preceding Tests, and a 5-0 whitewash at the hands of India on their last limited-overs assignment, the tourists delivered a fine all-round display at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
In compiling a sparkling 142-ball 137, the highest score in ODIs at this venue, Cook was chiefly responsible for lifting England to a total of 260 for seven after he had chosen to bat first in this day-night encounter.
England’s captain, strong on the cut and quick to dismiss any bowler who strayed on to his pads, nullified the threat of Pakistan’s varied attack with admirable ease and received excellent support from Essex team-mate Ravi Bopara, who contributed 50 to a third-wicket stand of 131.
Off-spinner Saeed Ajmal struck five times in 22 balls - en route to 5-43, his maiden ODI five-wicket haul - to enhance his side’s hopes, only for Finn to wreak havoc with the new ball at the start of Pakistan’s reply.
Finding bounce and seam movement from a seemingly benign surface, Finn trapped Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq lbw with successive balls at the start of the third over before having Younus Khan and Imran Farhat caught behind by Craig Kieswetter, and the designated hosts were unable to recover.
They were eventually dismissed for 130 - seven fewer than Cook alone - with 15 overs unused as spinners Samit Patel and Graeme Swann returned 3-26 and 2-19 respectively.
Finn finished with 4-34 from 10 overs and could have done little more to press his claims for a regular starting berth.
Many would have expected Kevin Pietersen to score at a swifter rate than Cook when England began their innings this morning, yet the Surrey batsman was largely subdued in reaching 14 from 36 balls.
He had already seen two reviews - one from each team - go in his favour by the time he was bowled by Shahid Afridi, who then accounted for Jonathan Trott first ball with a googly through the gate.
England’s captain, also the beneficiary of a successful review on 30 when umpire Simon Taufel failed to spot an inside-edge off Hafeez, had no such problems as he accumulated freely from the outset.
However, the run-rate gradually slowed as Bopara, who could have been stumped and given out lbw before he had passed two, initially struggled for fluency.
Cook broke the shackles in the 19th over, slog-sweeping Afridi over midwicket for four to reach his half-century - from 57 balls - before adding another boundary with a clip off his pads.
Ajmal - England’s chief tormentor during the Tests that preceded this series - and left-arm seamer Wahab Riaz were introduced as Pakistan looked for a third breakthrough.
The latter proved wayward, however, and Bopara collected his first four with a flick through backward square-leg before asserting his authority with two crunching cover-drives.
Cook, compact in defence but keen to attack whenever possible, also collected consecutive fours through the off side from Afridi, the first bringing up the 100 partnership.
The batting powerplay was enforced at the start of the 36th over, and Cook immediately brought up his third ODI century with a cut to the point fence off Ajmal, his 11th four.
Bopara soon moved to 50, but failed to add to his total before being stumped off Ajmal as he aimed a big heave across the line.
England were unable to regain the momentum thereafter as Ajmal weaved his magic once again. Eoin Morgan was lbw after missing a reverse sweep and Kieswetter ballooned a top-edge to short third man before Cook was bowled by a flatter delivery that took leg stump.
When Stuart Broad provided Ajmal with a return catch, the spinner was able to celebrate a first five-wicket haul in ODIs, although Pakistan then leaked 28 from the final three overs, Patel and Graeme Swann finishing unbeaten on 17 and 13 respectively.
Pakistan’s reply got off to a dreadful start, Hafeez and Shafiq both being struck plumb in front by Finn deliveries that nipped back sharply off the seam.
Kieswetter then pulled off a superb take diving to his left after Finn had induced an inside-edge from Younus, and the same combination accounted for Farhat, who got the thinnest of nicks to a wonderful delivery angled across the left-hander from over the wicket.
Misbah-ul-Haq was unable to stem the tide and made just 14 before departing lbw to Patel, who made a second breakthrough when Shoaib Malik advanced to a full toss and mis-timed a slog to Pietersen at mid-on.
Umar Akmal, troubled by a back complaint, and Afridi predictably counter-attacked, yet England were not held up for long.
After Afridi had been dropped at wide long-on by a back-pedalling Patel, Swann had Umar stumped for 22 from one that went on with the arm.
Patel then collected a third scalp when Afridi holed out to long-off and Gul fell leg before to Swann before Broad accounted for Saeed Ajmal to bring the match to an end.
Fittingly, it was Cook who took the final catch, the skipper running round from mid-on to claim a steepling chance.