England beat Pakistan in first one-day international

England 274-6 Pakistan 250-9 (England win by 24 runs)
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The Independent Online

England held their nerve to eke out a 24-run win against a spirited Pakistan at Chester-le-Street and go 1-0 up in the NatWest Series.

Dignified defeat was perhaps a step in the right direction for tourists still beset by the stresses of the spot-fixing controversy, while a competitive match was a comparative triumph for cricket too as it tries to recover from two weeks of crisis.

England's 274 for six, in a contest reduced to 41 overs per side after overnight rain, was a tough target - thanks to half-centuries from Steve Davies (87) and Jonathan Trott (69) and despite Saeed Ajmal's four for 58.

The equations then gradually narrowed against an always improbable chase, which threatened well into the final 10 overs but petered out to 250 for nine.

Before a delayed start, the latest repercussion of allegations of corruption - which have exclusively concerned Pakistan players - was the announcement that the three charged and suspended by the International Cricket Council were to fly home today.

Cloud cover raised the prospect of some morale-boosting early gains for Pakistan after they won the first toss of this five-match series.

It was not to be, however, as England openers Davies and Andrew Strauss put on 78 in under 12 overs - handing out some conspicuous punishment for Umar Gul and debutant Mohammad Irfan.

Strauss immediately hit the 7ft left-armer out of the attack, with three fours in the solitary over of his new-ball spell.

Intent on trying to dominate Gul in powerplay too, Strauss picked him up for a dismissive six over square leg - and Davies was soon giving himself room to smash the same bowler over cover.

An understandable decision to bowl first appeared to be backfiring, and Pakistan badly needed the deserving Shoaib Akhtar to grab a wicket and stall England's flying start.

He kept beating the bat but could not find the edge of either left-hander's bat - and after Shahid Afridi had dropped a sharp head-high chance at cover off Mohammad Hafeez to reprieve Davies on 21, the captain turned to Ajmal.

By the 10th over, Pakistan had used five different bowlers in a vain attempt to stem the tide - Shoaib having bowled five for just nine runs, but 54 coming at the other end.

Ajmal at last provided the breakthrough when he got one to slide on and bowl Strauss as he attempted an ambitious sweep.

But Davies deflected his eighth four down to fine leg off the returning Gul to bring up his 50 from only 37 balls.

He counted 13 fours from 67 by the time he was out, edging a cut behind off Ajmal, while Trott assumed his customary role of accumulation and strike rotation in a period of play which saw Irfan leave the field mid-over and fail to return because of cramp.

Trott needed 55 balls before he managed the only four in his 64-ball half-century, chopping to third man off Shoaib in a batting powerplay which brought 34 in four overs.

But Paul Collingwood swept Ajmal straight into the hands of deep square-leg.

Eoin Morgan then edged Afridi behind to Kamran Akmal, who had also belied his previous reputation for mistakes behind the stumps by 'catching' Trott on 26 off Ajmal when the Pakistanis - but not umpire Ian Gould - thought there was a thin edge on a late cut.

Trott, eventually bowled off an under-edge sweeping at Ajmal, upped the tempo enough to help Ravi Bopara cash in with 85 runs in the last 10 overs.

A reply of substance was hugely important to Pakistan's self-belief for the remainder of the series, and openers Akmal and Hafeez provided a solid start.

But Strauss deployed his pace attack to bowl tight lines and dry up the boundaries in powerplay, with spinners Graeme Swann and Michael Yardy lying in wait.

Swann duly delivered his party piece of a wicket in his first over when Hafeez's mistimed sweep was well-held by a tumbling Tim Bresnan at deep square-leg to end a stand of 62 with Akmal (53).

With Mohammad Yousuf also soon gone, lbw when he failed to get his leg outside off-stump to Yardy, Pakistan reached a 'Twenty20' equation of 167 runs required and eight wickets remaining.

Swann and Yardy might both have had Akmal in the 30s, had half-chances been taken by Strauss and then Trott.

But after a 56-ball 50 containing seven fours, the wicketkeeper-batsman did hole out at long-on off Swann.

Umar Akmal replaced his older brother and kept Pakistan just about in contention in company with Fawad Alam.

Bresnan returned to have Alam clubbing a catch to mid-on, and Akmal contrived to go caught behind as he tried to engineer more runs from the last ball of an otherwise productive Stuart Broad over.

Afridi and late tour replacement Asad Shafiq kept Pakistan and a near sell-out crowd interested. But wickets and overs always looked sure to ebb away a little too quickly, and so it eventually proved.