At long last, the Dubai International Cricket Stadium was almost full and rocking. Twenty20 was back in town last night: a crazy game for a crazy place.
Pakistan won by eight runs but the real point was that people had fun. It was difficult to tell if the spectators had fun in the four previous international cricket matches on the ground in the last month, since there were none to speak of.
The match was not decided until the 20th over, though England, who needed 35 from the final five overs, had run out of steam a little before. For most of the innings they seemed to be ahead of where they needed to be, but Pakistan's potent swing bowler Umar Gul undermined them at the end. Gul has been muted of late but he returned to his lethal peak and three late wickets did for England.
Stuart Broad, England's captain, said: "They're the sort of positions you ought to be winning from. You have to give credit to the way they finished their bowling but 35 from five you'd be backing yourself."
England were given a blistering start by Kevin Pietersen, forming with Craig Kieswetter the team's 20th opening pair in 42 matches. He continued where he left off in the one-day series, though more expansively, only to be cut off in his prime in the sixth over, narrowly failing to clear the mid-wicket boundary after blasting 33 in 21 balls. Ravi Bopara who had been suffering from a combination of ailments, including a stiff back and a sore hamstring, defied them all to play a breezy, calculating innings of 39 from 31 balls. Unfortunately he was bowled round his legs by a searing Gul yorker. Jos Buttler was caught fashioning a scoop shot, Samit Patel was leg-before first ball and the momentum was gone.
This was a riproaring game in which England's bowlers and fielders again had a huge influence on proceedings. It was the turn of Graeme Swann to put his imprint on events. With the debutant Awais Zia swinging from the hip, England needed to hold their nerve, and Swann did so.
First he had a hand or rather an elbow in a run out, gathering the ball in one hand and removing the bails with his joint to beat Asad Shafiq's dive. He then proceeded to take three wickets for one run in eight balls. At 73-5, Pakistan might have been dead and buried but Misbah-ul-Haq and Shoaib Malik guided them skilfully through the pitfalls of the second part of their innings. It was a model of how to how to acquire runs stealthily but quickly in trying circumstances.
First Twenty20. Pakistan beat England by 8 runs and lead three-match series 1-0; England won toss
Mohammad Hafeez c Bairstow b Swann 23, 22 balls 3 fours
Zia c Broad b Finn 18, 12 balls 1 four 1 six
Shafiq run out 19, 17 balls 2 fours
Shahid Afridi c Morgan b Swann 7, 7 balls 1 four
*Misbah ul-Haq not out 26, 26 balls 1 four 1 six
†Umar Akmal c Dernbach b Swann 0, 3 balls
Shoaib Malik c Bairstow b Dernbach 39, 33 balls 4 fours 1 six
Extras (lb11 w1) 12
Total 6 wkts (20 overs) 144
Fall 32, 65, 65, 73, 73, 144.
Bowling Finn 4-0-39-1, Dernbach 4-0-31-1, Broad 4-0-19-0, Swann 4-1-13-3, Bopara 1-0-8-0, S R Patel 3-0-23-0.
K P Pietersen c Asad Shahid Afridi 33, 21 balls 4 fours 1 six
†C Kieswetter b Mohammad Hafeez 14, 18 balls 2 fours
R S Bopara b Umar Gul 39, 32 balls 2 fours 1 six
E J G Morgan b Mohammad Hafeez 14, 16 balls 1 four
J M Bairstow not out 22, 21 balls
J C Buttler c Saeed Ajmal b Umar Gul 3, 4 balls
S R Patel lbw b Umar Gul 0, 1 ball
GP Swann not out 2, 7 balls
Extras (b1 lb4 w4) 9
Total 6 wkts (20 overs) 136
Fall 48, 51, 80, 113, 121, 121.
Bowling Junaid Khan 4-0-42-0, Umar Gul 4-1-18-3, Saeed Ajmal 4-0-26-0, Shahid Afridi 4-0-27-1, Mohammad Hafeez 4-0-18-2.
Umpires Ahsan Raza (Pak) & Shozab Raza (Pak).