There is some method in the madness of England playing a winter Twenty20 series in the UAE. Although superficially it seems useful only for supplementing their air miles – and the same goes for the tour of Bangladesh which follows – they need more matches to try to find some idea of how to play it.
With the third World Twenty20 taking place in the West Indies in May, they knew they were always likely to be running out of time. Such was the inspired nature of their performance yesterday against the present world champions, Pakistan, in Dubai that there is reason to suppose they might just play a more prominent role than in the previous two tournaments.
England bowled with skill and intelligence, fielded like tigers and batted with supreme expertise. They won by seven wickets with nine balls to spare when Eoin Morgan finished proceedings with a pulled six. Morgan shared an unbroken fourth wicket partnership of 112 from 85 balls with Kevin Pietersen, a record stand for England.
If Morgan, as usual, was refreshingly innovative, striking with measured power and placement, for Pietersen the innings was restorative after his recent travails in the Test series in South Africa.
England, chasing 130, which was modest despite the sluggish nature of the pitch, might have mucked it up when they fell to 18 for three but the required renovations were carried out with eager calm.
Despite their endeavours, England's batting clearly remains a work in progress. They have now played 22 T20 matches and yesterday's first-wicket pairing of Joe Denly and Jonathan Trott was their 15th different combination.
The manner in which both were dismissed did not offer automatic hope that they will still be around in Guyana in 10 weeks or so. Indeed, given the past willingness by both to experiment and then to panic there is no certainty that they will be given a second outing in the second match between the sides today.
England's captain, Paul Collingwood, said: "The way we came out and bowled put them under immediate pressure and we never really let them back in the game. There was a little blip in the first five overs when we batted but Kevin and Eoin dragged it back."
Perhaps there should not have been excessive dancing in the streets of Dubai last night, however, and not only because that sort of behaviour is understandably frowned upon in the country. England might have beaten the champions of the shortest format of the game but they are champions who have just been knocked from pillar to post all around Australia in all modes, losing every game.
Of the team which won the World Twenty20 so handsomely in England last June only five members were still present yesterday. Their captain and most their potent operator, Shahid Afridi, was missing because he was banned after trying to alter the condition against Australia by taking a bite out of it. He will return today and will certainly add teeth to Pakistan in more ways than one.
England could contend only with what was in front of them and, aware that Pakistan have made a habit of defending all manner of targets (they had won 11 of 13 matches batting first, 21 from 28 in all), they set out to nuzzle them.
Instead of assessing the state of the pitch, Pakistan pre-empted it and paid the price for playing needlessly big shots early; Collingwood switched his bowlers alertly and there was repeated smart use of the slower ball. This was supported by fielding which is still untypical of England, slick enough for an oil field. This was demonstrated both by Pietersen's adroit run out of Imran Farhat, refusing to be rushed in knocking down the stumps from mid-off, and Stuart Broad's excellent catch to remove the potentially dangerous Umar Akmal, when he leapt high at gully to take a powerful cut.
From 39 for four there was no easy way back into the match for Pakistan and although a partnership of 47 followed, England were in control.
The pursuit, however, started as a badly as it could have done. Denly chipped to mid-wicket, Trott chopped on a touch carelessly and when Collingwood contributed his wicket by taking a dodgy second run only to be just short, England were imperilled. But Pietersen was busily acquisitive and largely risk free, while Morgan was magnificent.
Singlehandedly, Morgan has added a new dimension to England's batting line-up. After 26 balls he had made only 14 but from the moment he hooked his 27th finely for six he was rampant.
He finished with 67 from 51 balls with seven fours and two sixes. Umar Gul is the most economical bowler in T20, going at less than a run a ball, but Morgan brought the match to a close by hitting him for 14 in three balls and made mincemeat of him in the process.
Scoreboard from Dubai Sports City ground
Pakistan won toss
England beat Pakistan by seven wickets
I Nazir c Denly b Broad: 2
I Farhat run out (Pietersen): 14
K Latif c Prior b Wright: 4
U Akmal c Broad b Swann: 13
*S Malik c Collingwood b Swann; 33
F Alam c Prior b Broad: 23
A Razzaq c Broad b Bresnan: 22
†S Ahmed c Broad b Bresnan: 5
Y Arafat not out: 9
U Gul not out: 1
Extras (lb 1, w 1, nb 1): 3
Total (8 wkts, 20 overs): 129
Fall: 1-9, 2-20, 3-26, 4-39, 5-86, 6-106, 7-115, 8-119.
Bowling: G Swann 3-0-18-2, S Broad 4-0-23-2, T Bresnan 4-0-30-2, L Wright 4-0-27-1, P Collingwood 1-0-9-0, R Sidebottom 4-0-21-0.
J Trott b Razzaq: 4
J Denly c Farhat b Arafat: 1
K Pietersen not out: 43
*P Collingwood run out (Farhat): 0
E Morgan not out: 67
Extras (b 1, lb 5, w 9): 15
Total (3 wkts, 18.3 overs): 130
Fall: 1-7, 2-10, 3-18.
Did not bat: L J Wright, †M J Prior, T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, R J Sidebottom.
Bowling: Y Arafat 4-0-18-1, A Razzaq 4-0-24-1, S Ajmal 4-0-18-0, S Malik 3-0-28-0, U Gul 3.3-0-36-0.
Umpires: E A R de Silva & H D P K Dharmasena
TV replay umpire : Enamul Haque
Match referee: Mohammad Ali