Morgan and Yardy fend off Pakistan
Superb innings under pressure by Eoin Morgan and Michael Yardy rescued England from a disconcerting mid-innings wobble to claim a comfortable five-wicket win in the opening NatWest International T20.
In their first match since lifting the ICC World Twenty20 title in Barbados, England threatened to make a hash of a routine chase of 127 on a bouncing, turning pitch at the SWALEC Stadium.
Three wickets in 13 balls had thrown their pursuit off course to a precarious 62 for five, but the solution came in the form of the two left-handers, both keen to rotate the strike and pick gaps in the field.
Morgan kept Pakistan guessing with a stream of reverse-sweeps and flicks in his 38 not out, while Yardy’s unbeaten 35 lacked for nothing in comparison, and helped earn him the match award.
They were helped considerably, it should be added, by another implosion in the field by the butter-fingered tourists. Shoaib Akhtar’s drop of Morgan, on just 13, probably cost Pakistan the game.
England's fielding was not immune from criticism, but a captivating spell of 2-14 from Graeme Swann put them squarely on top.
Paul Collingwood chose to bowl first following a half-hour delay due to heavy rain.
England showed two changes from their trophy-winning line-up in May. Michael Lumb and Kevin Pietersen’s spots went to Steven Davies and Ravi Bopara, with Davies taking the gloves from Craig Kieswetter.
The absence of Salman Butt, one of three Pakistan players facing charges relating to the ICC's Anti-Corruption Code, allowed Kamran Akmal to open up, still in search of his first meaningful runs of the tour.
Though he enjoyed a profitable first over at the hands of Ryan Sidebottom, Kamran lasted just two more balls, skying an attempted hook off Tim Bresnan.
That brought Mohammad Yousuf to the crease, in a rare Twenty20 outing for a man almost totally out of step with the demands of the shortest form of the game.
Even if he lacked the power to bludgeon sixes, the 36-year-old was prepared to innovate, repeatedly lofting over the infield.
Yousuf played a number of deft flicks behind the wicket, one a chin-high flick over Davies’ head, as his second-wicket partnership with Shahzaib Hasan grew to a troublesome 37 by the seventh over.
Spin then proved Pakistan’s downfall, on a track amply demonstrating its reputation as a turner’s paradise.
Swann had already induced Shahzaib into a desperate swipe, before Yousuf’s inside-edge fell gratefully into deep midwicket’s hands.
Only one run came from Swann’s first over, and his grip did not relax in a wonderful spell of slow bowling.
Shahzaib was his second victim, wandering fatally down to a delivery that turned almost square; Davies did well to follow it and complete a leg-side stumping.
Pakistan’s younger batsman looked all at sea against Swann, Yardy and Collingwood, as only 38 runs were scored between overs eight and 16.
They still had their let-offs; Yardy's strong lbw appeal against the hapless Fawad Alam was turned down, while Umar Akmal’s full-blooded pull was dropped by a startled Bresnan at short midwicket.
Alam repeatedly failed in his attempts to carve the spinners over the leg-side field, batting himself into exasperation in 29 balls.
The left-hander’s torpor ended when he scooped an ungainly return catch to Yardy early in the 16th over.
Umar and Shahid Afridi tried their best to arrest the situation with an unbroken 38-run stand, though it hardly helped Pakistan that the dangerous Abdul Razzaq sat unused in the dug-out.
Afridi enjoyed two lives in Broad’s penultimate over. The bowler could scarcely be blamed for failing to hold a rasping drive, but Luke Wright’s miss at mid-off was less forgivable.
It mattered little that England took just four wickets as Pakistan limped to 126; only one boundary came in the last four overs with Collingwood manfully protecting the ropes.
England had few problems against Razzaq’s innocuous medium-pacers first up, but Akhtar was an entirely different proposition.
Working up a pace close to 90mph, the 35-year-old tied Kieswetter in knots during an opening maiden, and was rewarded when the right-hander went flashing at a wide half-volley and edged to Kamran.
Bopara endured a similar going-over, but put on 33 with the fluent Davies before becoming Akhtar's second wicket.
His departure to a mistimed lofted drive was surprising for the way Yousuf, put out to pasture at long-on, held onto a sprawling catch above his head.
England then slipped into strife when Collingwood, Davies and Wright fell in short order.
When Afridi summoned himself for the eighth over, the England captain bottom-edged onto his own stumps.
Arguably a bigger blow was the loss of the serene Davies on 33, instinctively flicking Umar Gul off his legs, only to find Wahab Riaz stationed in the deep.
Wright contributed nothing other than a thoroughly misguided sweep against Afridi's leg-spin second ball. The number six looked back to see his stumps rearranged, leaving England in need of 65 with only five wickets to come.
Morgan immediately settled the nerves with a sweet extra-cover drive, and his cause was helped further when Akhtar’s misfield at fine-leg allowed him four more.
Worse was to come for Pakistan's aging fast bowler with the score on 78. Stationed at gully, Akhtar somehow managed to allow Morgan’s reverse-sweep to slip in and out of his hands.
Yardy had his own minor flutter, when his thick edge off Saeed Ajmal evaded Kamran.
Runs came easily for the next four overs, with Akhtar returning for one last blast without success.
Morgan opened up by hauling Ajmal over long-on for four, and drove to the cover boundary for the winning runs. He and Yardy's 67-run partnership saw England home with 17 balls to spare.