Alastair Cook brings up another ODI hundred, many convincedA captain's innings can mean a number of different contributions in different contexts, but there'll be few better examples than Alastair Cook's 137 in the first one-day international against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.
Cook was fluent where others struggled, permanent where the rest came and went. He scored more than half of what England posted as a total — fitting, given that compared to his team-mates he looked twice the player.
The innings looked like propping up a competitive total — in the end, the 11 batsmen of Pakistan combined fell seven runs short of Cook's score.
On the eve of the series there were plenty who questioned Chef's place in this team on batting ability — Ian Botham was one of several high-profile pundits who left him out of their England one-day line-up — but that's because the memory of the pre-captaincy Cook persists.
Before he was given the armband Cook played 23 ODIs and averaged little over 30 at a ponderous strike rate of 68.
Since the captaincy? 19 ODIs, average of 52.52 at a strike rate of over 93. To put that in some context — since 2010, only Andrew Strauss (by 0.07 runs per hundred balls) has a better strike rate. His strike rate is only marginally worse than Sachin Tendulkar in the same time period. Celebrated dashers like Tillakaratne Dilshan and MS Dhoni score more slowly, as do titans of the game like Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara, and yes, even Jonathan Trott.
Sometimes the statistics do not tell the whole story, but here there's evidence enough. If England want to take another look at their batting, Cook's not the problem.
England certainly did not put all their woes behind them with victory — Saeed Ajmal continued to torment them with his unique brand of seemingly unreadable spin. He claimed five wickets for 43 runs as England lost their way. The Kevin Pietersen experiment at the top of the order failed this time, with KP slipping unconsciously into the role of anchor.
Trott was at the crease for just one ball — not quite long enough to be blamed by England fans for going too slow — while Eoin Morgan and Craig Kieswetter played innings that befitted men desperately short of form. It looked as if Ravi Bopara had been plucked straight from a job interview for the navy when he came to bat, so all at sea was the Essex man, but he showed courage to ride the waves of fortune and make a half-century. Without Cook, however, there would have been nothing to hold the innings together, and if he fails, the rest of the line-up could find themselves exposed by spin once more.
In the field England had more to celebrate as a team, with Steven Finn the stand-out performer.
Finn was Cook's best player on the eminently forgettable tour of India, and picked up where he left off there. His strength and fitness have improved - his pace, allied to a hint of movement under the lights, was too much for the Pakistanis to handle.
He can consider himself very unlucky that he isn't already in England's Test side, given he's a far more complete bowler these days than the man who already has 50 Test wickets to his name at an average of 27 — but any more performances of this calibre on pitches which don't appear to naturally favour his pace and bounce, and he will give the selectors a real dilemma.
The rest of the attack backed up that individual performance, with Samit Patel and Graeme Swann both accurate and persistent in the face of a gung-ho Shahid Afridi, and Stuart Broad and James Anderson bowling a nagging line which allowed Finn to attack.
England, who have been media-trained to talk up the positives in the darkest moments, can be pleased they have so many genuine reasons to be pleased.
They need to carry the momentum of a 130-run victory into the second game at Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, because the form book, in which England had arrived on the back of a 5-0 defeat in the ODIs and a 3-0 defeat in the Test series against Pakistan, suggests this result could easily prove a one-off.
STAT OF THE DAY: Pietersen in ODIs before 2009: 78 innings, average 48.36, strike rate 87.58; since January 2009: 35 innings, average 24.85, strike rate 83.17 — as pointed out by @rajeshstats on Twitter. What makes Cowers think we'll be having the KP debate before the series is out?
TWEETS OF THE DAY: 'Like an England batsman trying to advance down the pitch, Bob Willis just attempted a smile then abandoned it as a bad idea' - @ECB_PR (note — not official PR suppliers of England cricket) see Willis break into what is not so much a smile but an ever-so-slightly mesmerising grin.
USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: "Any chance we could convince Ajmal to that he is eligible for an English passport?" — David asks the question the ECB may (not) have been analysing...
COMING UP: Let's do it all over again on Wednesday. The second of the four-match series starts at the same time - 11:00 GMT - and in the same place - Abu Dhabi. We'll be doing live text commentary as usual.