If you doubt the value of experience in one-day international cricket, just look at England. They depended hugely on Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen in their extraordinary 4-0 triumph in the one-day series.
Not only had these two played a combined total of 170 one-dayers between them, but they had spent the last month grappling with the opposition bowlers and the conditions and had finally begun to understand both. They are the perfect foil for each other in one-day cricket – Cook neat, unobtrusive, resourceful; Pietersen flamboyant and destructive.
Cook, by the way, in his methodical, determined way, now has a better one-day strike rate (80.52) than Ricky Ponting. There was nothing radically different about his game. He just upped the tempo, angling the bat subtly in defence to profit from the lack of close fielders.
It was cast iron proof that the best players find a way, whatever the competition or situation. Cook’s (and Pietersen’s) ability against the new ball will be doubly valuable in one-dayers on English pitches now that there are two new balls per innings.
England, however, came unstuck in the first Twenty20 international against Pakistan because of the inexperience in the middle order. Following the dismissal of Ravi Bopara – who is currently ahead on points of Eoin Morgan in the race for the sixth batting place for the Test tour of Sri Lanka – the sealing of victory was left to a trio who have played only a handful of one-dayers at this level between them.
Jonny Bairstow, a jaunty and pugnacious character – and, incidentally, a brilliant fielder too – tried his energetic and belligerant best. This included a reverse sweep to his first ball (which nearly ended in a catch).
But his attempts mainly lacked subtlety. He tried to whack everything. When you are facing two savvy bowlers – Umar Gul bowling in-swinging yorkers and Saeed Ajmal fizzing down fast spinners that held in the dry pitch – you need deftness and dexterity to be able to manoeuvre the ball around.
Perhaps Jos Buttler could have provided that – he has an impressive range of shots – but he tried too much too soon. He panicked a bit, understandably so in only his third match for England. And Samit Patel was out first ball. Suddenly the target, which was very gettable, was out of reach.
Graeme Swann told us after the game that these young players have unbelievable talent and power. He said they demonstrate it constantly in the nets. Undoubtedly this is true. But until you’ve been in these critical situations a number of times, you don’t really know when, and how, to use that power. As a batsman you don’t really understand your game until your late twenties, anyway.
These guys need time. England therefore are likely to be inconsistent in one-dayers for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, celebrate Alastair Cook’s mantra: experience tells you that where there’s a will there’s a way.