England return to Dubai tomorrow in very different mood to when they left nearly a fortnight ago.
Then, a harrowing Test series whitewash had just been wrapped up by a mightily impressive and disciplined Pakistan, leading many to forecast a similar outcome in the one day series to follow.
Not so. Alastair Cook’s imperious batting and improving captaincy, allied to standout performances from Steven Finn and Ravi Bopara, have taken the tourists to a 2-0 lead in the four-match series.
A win tomorrow would seal it and complete a remarkable turnaround after the disaster that was the Test series, not to mention England’s patchy-at-best recent one day form. It is hard to see the Andy Flower making any alterations for game three and why change a winning formula anyway?
This, of course, leaves the likes of Tim Bresnan, Jos Buttler and Johnny Bairstow frustrated onlookers, particularly now Bopara’s consecutive fifties have secured his place in the middle order for the time being. Looking over their shoulders will be Craig Kieswetter, Kevin Pietersen and even Jimmy Anderson, but change before England’s next ODI series against the West Indies in June is unlikely and probably ill-advised.
Things are not so rosy all of a sudden in the Pakistan garden. With the opposition finally taking the game to their roster of spinners, it has become harder to disguise what is still a far from complete batting line up.
For a side with such an impressive recent record, they are also puzzlingly unsure of their best line up. Wahab Riaz, Shoaib Malik and Asad Shafiq were replaced by Aizaz Cheema, Abdur Rehman and Azhar Ali after the first game in Abu Dhabi - Pakistan’s first defeat in seven one day outings.
The promising Shafiq is the most likely of the three to return, while young all-rounder Hammad Azam has been touted as a possibility to play in his sixth ODI and left-arm seamer Junaid Khan remains an option should Pakistan stick with two pace bowlers.
A more basic issue that needs to be addressed is in the field. Younis Khan and Umar Gul are partly excused through age and longstanding injury, but the likes of Imran Farhat have a long way to go to meet the basic standard required of an international cricketer.
A tied series is still very much possible, though, with the toss important and England reliant on Captain Cook. We’ll be back with our stellar weekend cast so join us, won’t you?
*Join us tomorrow for live ball-by-ball coverage of the third ODI between Pakistan and England on Test Match Sofa from 10.45am GMT.