Morgan shines for England but spotlight remains on dark arts

Pakistan 126-4 England
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The Independent Online

The ball for the opening Twenty20 international between England and Pakistan was yesterday parachuted on to the ground in the possession of an RAF display team. Nobody exactly said it but the feeling was that you cannot be too careful these days.

It should have been a match to savour, between the best short-form side in the world, England, and their immediate predecessors as champions, Pakistan. But the week, indeed the hours, leading up to it had been dominated by fixing allegations.

And if not that, then tweeting – the curse of the modern England cricketer – of which there was another spectacularly rude example yesterday, this one provided by Dimitri Mascarenhas. If Mascarenhas did not think of himself as a former international, he almost certainly is now. The cricket these days is a mere sideshow, an appendage to the real business at hand.

The initial natural upshot of this was that every move made by both teams, Pakistan in particular, was scrutinised. A fielding error there, and there were plenty, a dropped catch there, and there were too many of those, immediately invited doubt.

England won the match at a canter with 17 balls to spare, their nerveless limited-overs champion, Eoin Morgan, with 38 from 24 balls, steering them home in partnership with Mike Yardy. But, had Morgan been caught at short fine leg by Shoaib Akhtar when he was on 13 and Yardy by Kamran Akmal when 11, who knows what might have happened?

Only the over before that glaring error, Akhtar had made a porridge of fielding a ball at long leg, turning a routine glanced single into a four. This is the trouble with malpractice allegations sweeping the game. Everything and everybody looks guilty until proven innocent.

The truth is that Pakistan are simply pretty awful at fielding and while Akhtar can still propel the ball at above 90mph, he is 35 and probably neither as fit nor as alert as required in this lightning-fast form of the game. But the remainder of this tour is destined to be dogged by controversy, particularly if Pakistan keep losing in this manner.

England like to think of themselves as squeaky clean. The game's the thing and all that. In respect of tweets, however, this is far from the case. Following Kevin Pietersen's swipe at the selectors last week – and that followed efforts from Tim Bresnan and Azeem Rafiq – Mascarenhas went further.

Two tweets surfaced, in which he referred unflatteringly to the chairman of selectors, Geoff Miller. The first said: "Chairman of selectors came and didn't even come say hi... What a prick... Doesn't take much to say hello does it??" The second, more explicit in its feelings, said: "Geoff Miller is a complete knob... He had no clue what he is doing... Fing prick."

An ECB spokesman, no doubt grateful not to be having to explain away how 150k of readies came to be in players' possession, said: "We are aware of the comments on Twitter and an investigation is under way."

Back on the pitch, where sport is sometimes concentrated and sometimes in a pure fashion, England, in their first match since lifting the world title so splendidly in May, were hardly greeted as returning heroes. But they bowled with impressive competence after winning the toss. Too many Pakistan batsmen got in and got out, undermined by some smart bowling by Graeme Swann and Mike Yardy. Between them, the spinners conceded 35 runs in eight overs. Umar Akmal played expertly at the end with the captain, Shahid Afridi, to post a total which was modest, but not outrageously low. In the space of a few days, Afridi has gone from a dodgy character to a hero. He has some previous for sharp practice on the field but at least, the feeling has grown, he does it so his side can win. Afridi had some comments to make afterwards about Yasir Hemeed's interview with the News of the World in which he spoke of match-fixing. He said he was not surprised and that Hameed had done it before.

When Pakistan reduced England to 62 for five in the 10th over they had the match in their clutches. But, just as quickly, they surrendered it. Morgan and Yardy took full advantage of the lapses. It all looked legitimate but, doubtless, someone will come along in a decade or so to say otherwise.

Cardiff scoreboard

England v Pakistan

First Twenty20 international

England beat Pakistan by five wickets

England won toss

PAKISTAN

......... Runs......... 6s......... 4s......... Bls

†K Akmal c Yardy b Bresnan......... 6......... 0......... 0......... 4

S Hasan st Davies b Swann......... 21......... 0......... 2......... 25

M Yousuf c Morgan b Swann......... 26......... 0......... 3......... 18

F Alam c & b Yardy......... 20......... 0......... 0......... 29

U Akmal not out......... 35......... 0......... 2......... 30

*S Afridi not out......... 16......... 0......... 1......... 14

Extras (lb 1, w 1)......... 2

Total (4 wkts, 20 overs)......... 126

Fall: 1-13, 2-50, 3-56, 4-88.

Did not bat: A Razzaq, U Gul, W Riaz, S Ajmal, S Akhtar.

Bowling: G Swann 4-0-14-2, T Bresnan 3-0-18-1, M Yardy 4-0-21-1, P Collingwood 1-0-8-0, S Broad 4-0-32-0, R Sidebottom 4-0-32-0.

ENGLAND

......... Runs......... 6s......... 4s......... Bls

C Kieswetter c Akmal b Akhtar......... 6......... 0......... 1......... 7

†S Davies c Riaz b Gul......... 33......... 0......... 3......... 27

R Bopara c Yousuf b Akhtar......... 11......... 0......... 1......... 13

*P Collingwood b Afridi......... 4......... 0......... 0......... 4

E Morgan not out......... 38......... 0......... 6......... 24

L Wright b Afridi......... 0......... 0......... 0......... 2

M Yardy not out......... 35......... 0......... 4......... 26

Extras (lb 1, w 1)......... 2

Total (5 wkts, 17.1 overs)......... 129

Fall: 1-9, 2-42, 3-55, 4-57, 5-62.

Did not bat: T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann, R J Sidebottom.

Bowling: S Akhtar 4-1-23-2, S Afridi 4-0-27-2, U Gul 2.1-0-17-1, W Riaz 2-0-11-0, A Razzaq 2-0-20-0, S Ajmal 3-0-30-0.

Umpires: R A Kettleborough & N J Llong.

TV replay umpire : R K Illingworth.

Match referee: J J Crowe (NZ).

England two-match series 1-0.

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