Dubai: Kevin Pietersen was captain of England when he struck his last hundred in a one-day international. It sounds so long ago that it might have belonged to a different world. In some ways it did on Saturday as his team beat Pakistan by nine wickets.
As the England coach left Cuttack that night he could hardly have imagined what lay in wait. A major terrorist attack on Mumbai was already underway and was about to force the postponement of England's tour of India. After England returned for a Test series played under heavy security, his relationship with the coach Peter Moores broke down irrevocably and both men lost their jobs.
It is a history that has played heavily upon him. Pietersen toyed for a while, nobody quite knows how seriously, with abandoning one-day cricket as his star began to wane. It has taken three years, three months and 37 ODIs to draw a line and when he walked down the pitch in his audacious style of old, and flicked Aizaz Cheema through the leg side, the intervening years seemed more aptly summed up not by his routine kneel and punch of the air as a slightly rueful raise of the eyebrows.
It is no longer Pietersen's one-day side now but Alastair Cook's, and it was perhaps appropriate that his batting renaissance contributed to Cook's achievement in leading England to a rare one-day series victory in Asia. England now hold an unassailable 3-0 lead with one match to play and a nine-wicket victory with 12.4 overs remaining, fashioned by an opening stand between Cook and Pietersen of 170, could hardly have been more emphatic. Whitewashed in the Test series against Pakistan, they will now be bent upon returning the favour in the final match in the same stadium on Tuesday.
Cook's only regret will be that he narrowly failed to become the first England batsman to make hundreds in three consecutive ODIs. He had reached 80 when he pushed gently forward at the off-spin of Saeed Ajmal and gave Adnan Akmal a faint catch. Cook had again been in unruffled form, his cut shot more to the fore than it had been in Abu Dhabi on a quicker batting surface, but his exit cleared the way for Pietersen to claim the limelight.
This has been an opening partnership assembled partly through adversity as Pietersen looked forward to a few sighters against the fast bowlers after a traumatic Test series against Pakistan's spinners. It now looks bedded in and that coud spell trouble for Craig Kieswetter, whose keeping has been patchy - he dropped Umar on 28 off Broad - and whose range is too limited to convince as a No. 6 in Asia.
Pietersen's habitual pre-match claim that he was in "fantastic" form was backed up by adventurous footwork and flowing strokeplay. He passed 4,000 runs in ODIs in spectacular fashion as he danced down the pitch to strike the offspin of Mohammad Hafeez over the sightscreen for six.
He was dropped on 45 when a fierce, flat pull against Aizaz Cheema smacked into the body of the onrushing Azhar Ali at deep square. That apart, his most awkward moments came against the Akmal brothers. Adnan, who had replaced his brother Umar behind the stumps, ill-advisedly tried to run Pietersen out after he had tapped the ball back to him, and apologised. Umar tried to run him out more legimately only for the ball to ricochet off the stumps and career away for five overthrows.
A sandstorm had disrupted the practice day and when the Kaus - meaning "bow" in Arabic - a vigorous south-westerly off the desert, cleared in the nick of time it revealed the same flaky Pakistan top order. They lost three wickets in 15 balls to slump to 50 for 4 before Umar, his lips daubed in luminous green sun cream, and the ageing swinger Shahid Afridi, who needs no war paint to convey his belligerence, summoned half-centuries to keep Pakistan in the match.
Umar's last two dismissals have taken Samit Patel's fielding reputation to new heights. In Abu Dhabi and Dubai, on off side and leg side, he has flung himself to the ground to hold an excellent catch. He knows that his fitness remains borderline - if you enquire innocently about the weather there is every chance he will reply "chicken and salad", and guiltily wipe the trace of an imaginary beef burger from his lips - but he is a decent cricketer and should be seriously considered to bat No. 6 for England in the Sri Lanka Test series.
Afridi was at his most restrained: that is he gambolled along at only a run a ball. He began in haywire fashion but then played responsibly, a straight six off Graeme Swann's offspin his most emphatic moment. Like Umar, he fell soon after reaching his half-century, bowled by James Anderson as he whipped to leg.
For the third successive match, Finn pronounced himself as fine a young fast bowler as anyone in the world. He took two wickets with the new ball, bowling straight and finding steep bounce at close to 90mph. He finished with 3 for 24, taking his series' tally to 11 wickets at 8.36 runs each.
Pakistan had won 13 ODIs out of 14 going into this series and had also whitewashed England 3-0 in the Test series, but such statistics seemed from another age. The loss of Imran Farhat, caught at the wicket as he struggled to cope with Finn's hostility, seemed a blip. But Stuart Broad caused Azhar Ali to flirt with one outside off stump, Mohammad Hafeez was lbw to an inducker from Finn and Misbah-ul-Haq dangled his bat at Broad to edge to first slip.
Broad conceded 16 from his first over, his mood not enhanced by a no-ball that prevented him from dismissing Azhar to a catch by Eoin Morgan at gully. His interrogation of the umpire Aleem Dar was borne out of frustration, but it looked disrespectful. Broad does not need sand stinging his face to become a bit irascible; a ball in his hands normally does the trick.
Shafiq's first run would have brought his downfall if Pietersen's flat throw had hit the target and he did not learn his lesson. He was unsettled by Swann's lbw appeal as the ball ran into the legside and had to dive back into the crease as Cook threw the ball to the wicketkeeper, Kieswetter, but the third umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, ruled that his bat was not grounded behind the line. It summed up Pakistan's day.