Eoin Morgan and Michael Yardy steadied England's nerves with a game-breaking stand of 67 in 7.1 overs, as Pakistan succumbed to a five-wicket defeat in the first Twenty20 at Cardiff. Chasing a meagre total of 127 after Graeme Swann had bossed the contest with a sharp-turning and incisive spell of 2 for 14 in four overs, England were at one stage in some strife at 62 for 5 at the halfway mark of their innings. However, Shoaib Akhtar undermined a feisty bowling spell with a dreadful fielding performance, as Pakistan's bid for on-field redemption after a week of grim allegations floundered at the first attempt.
The critical moment of England's innings came in the 12th over, with the game still in the balance at 77 for 5. Morgan, on 13, unfurled his trademark reverse sweep against the legspin of Shahid Afridi, and chipped a facile chance to Shoaib at short third man. The chance, however, slipped straight through his fingers and down to the turf, and with it - there and then - went the match. Morgan shifted effortlessly into one-day finishing mode, clipping and dabbing six fours in an unbeaten 38 from 24 balls, while Yardy, also dropped on 11 by Kamran Akmal, followed up an invaluable bowling performance with a Man-of-the-Match-winning 35 from 26.
After winning the toss after a half-hour rain delay, in overcast conditions that matched the prevailing mood after a week of damaging and distracting off-field issues, Paul Collingwood chose to bowl first to keep his team on the right side of any potential Duckworth-Lewis calculations. He was rewarded with a diligent display that kept Pakistan's big-hitters very much in check throughout, and though England themselves dropped three catches of varying degrees of difficulty, they conceded just eight fours in the innings, no sixes (for the first time in Pakistan's T20 history), and a solitary extra in the 19th over.
Ryan Sidebottom, one of the key components of England's World Twenty20 triumph back in May, opened the innings with a loose over that was biffed for 12, but that was arguably the only moment that Pakistan were in command of their innings. Two balls later, Kamran heaved across the line for Tim Bresnan to make England's first breakthrough, and Pakistan struggled to regain the upper hand thereafter.
Playing in his second Twenty20 and his first for four years, Mohammad Yousuf played some extravagant lofted drives in a carefree 26 from 18 balls, but Swann made his now-habitual early impact, striking with his fifth delivery as Morgan pouched a lofted pull at midwicket. Two overs later, Shahzaib Hasan was dragged down the track and smartly stumped by Steve Davies, who took over from Michael Lumb at the top of the order, and claimed the gloves off Craig Kieswetter to boot.
With extravagant turn on offer right from the start of the spinners' spell, Yardy once again put in an admirable spell, and was rewarded with a sharp caught-and-bowled to end a frenetic but uneffective innings from Fawad Alam, who groped and prodded to 20 from 29 balls, but never looked likely to dominate the bowling. Afridi was much more effective in his 16 from 14 balls, even though he benefitted from two lives in a single over from Stuart Broad - the second of which was a dolly to Luke Wright, running in from the long-on boundary. Abdul Razzaq, with 49 sixes in his Twenty20 international career, didn't make it to the middle.
In reply, England made an awkward start with Kieswetter's struggle for form continuing. He made 6 from seven balls before wafting at Shoaib and scuffing a thin edge to Kamran , while Ravi Bopara, slotting in at No. 3 in place of the out-of-form Kevin Pietersen, made 11 from 13 balls before Mohammad Yousuf - not renowned as the finest fielder in the world game - backpedalled admirably on the long-on boundary to cling onto a steepling thwack, again off Shoaib.
Davies looked lively for his 33 from 27, before whipping Umar Gul off his hip and straight to Wahab Riaz at square leg, while Afridi - with typical flamboyance, struck twice in two overs to remove Collingwood for 4, as he inside-edged onto his stumps, and Luke Wright for a second-ball duck, as he lined up a sweep and was bowled round his legs. But then came Shoaib's clanger, and England didn't look back.