26. February 2012 15:45
England go into tomorrow’s deciding T20 in Abu Dhabi as definite favourites following a fortnight that has transformed a tour that had teetered on the brink of disaster.
Having been whitewashed in the Test series, few were predicting much of a comeback from a young limited overs squad still very much a work in progress over three years away from the next World Cup.
But Alastair Cook and now Stuart Broad have led their ODI and T20 charges admirably. Kevin Pietersen's dramatic return to form has been handy, too, as has the continued development of Steven Finn into a high-class international pace demon.
Team England's meticulous approach to youth development has also begun to bear fruit as 22-year-old Johnny Bairstow - the city of York's finest export since Dame Judi Dench - blazed his way to an unbeaten 60 in Dubai to set up tomorrow's finale.
It was an innings reminiscent of his arresting 41 off 21 balls on debut against India in Cardiff last September and went some way to justifying the faith put in him after his unremarkable Lions tour of the subcontinent. Jos Buttler struggled again against international bowling but his fellow Lions graduate's success should inspire rather than deflate a young batsman with bundles of raw talent.
Eoin Morgan's complete lack of form is a more pressing issue. This was billed as a perfect tour for the Irishman's innovative technique on spin-friendly pitches, but he has faltered badly, failing to score higher than 31 in twelve attempts in the Emirates.
His performances in the hectic world of T20s shouldn’t diminish his selection chances for March’s two-Test tour of Sri Lanka, but a stage may soon be reached where a break from the international treadmill is seen as the best course of action for a player so demonstrably short on confidence.
At the other end of his career, the fulcrum of Pakistan's Test success over the tourists, Misbah-ul-Haq, is now facing serious questions over his captaincy in the limited overs formats. How quickly things change.
Awais Zia enjoyed just one scoring shot in the twelve balls he survived at the top of the order on Saturday and has a long way to go to carve out an international career. At 25-years-old it is debatable how much potential is left to flourish into international talent.
Quality spinners are in plentiful supply for Pakistan and Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and the inimitable Shahid Afridi can be ably complemented by Abdur Rehman and Shoaib Malik to both constrict and bowl out the best sides.
The pace department is a concern, though. Umar Gul’s recent regression has exposed a lack of depth and, while Junaid Khan could lead the line one day, it is an area in which Pakistan need to improve quickly if they are to prosper on wickets away from Dubai and the subcontinent.
Regardless of tomorrow's result, England's one day boys come away from the desert with reputations generally enhanced. Pakistan, quite unexpectedly after the Tests, have much to ponder ahead of September T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.
*Join us from 3.45pm tomorrow for live coverage of the final T20 between Pakistan and England in Abu Dhabi.