Pakistan had little trouble in defeating England in the first of four scheduled one-day internationals as a terrific unbeaten 102 from Mohammad Hafeez secured victory by six wickets after the tourists, who were defeated 2-0 in their recent Test series against the same opponents, had set a thoroughly mediocre target of 217 in Abu Dhabi.
Proceedings got off to a woeful start for England, who lost opener Jason Roy to just the second delivery of the day when he was clean bowled by the towering figure of Mohammad Irfan for a duck and Joe Root lasted less than an over before he was trapped lbw by Anwar Ali. The Yorkshire star, who had yet to add any runs, appealed in vain for a slight inside edge but South African umpire Johan Cloete's decision was upheld in the absence of snicko or hotspot from this series.
Already reeling from such a disappointing early showing, things got worse shortly afterwards when Alex Hales edged Anwar Ali to Younis Khan at first slip for 10. The 37-year-old, playing in his his last ODI after announcing his retirement from the format before play began at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, took a juggling catch to leave the tourists in big trouble at 14-3.
A partnership of 133 between captain Eoin Morgan and James Taylor initially steadied the ship for England, before the latter was handed a reprieve when he lofted a shot high into the air but was then dropped by Azhar Ali. Pakistan were not to be denied, however, and Morgan was dismissed with the very next ball as he was caught behind by Sarfraz Ahmed off the bowling of Shoaib Malik.
That loss seemed to derail the team's concentration once again and the out-of-form Jos Buttler appeared for just a matter of moments before he was called through for an ill-advised single by Taylor and swiftly run out with time to spare as Azhar Ali did well to deliver the ball to Ahmed for a simple stumping. Looking to atone for his error, Taylor survived once again when Malik waited too long to appeal an lbw shout and replays subsequently showed that it had indeed pitched in-line and was set to hit leg stump. He eventually went for 60 after flicking the same bowler to Azhar Ali at mid-wicket.
By now, England were struggling badly to reach even a modest total and Babar Azam did not help their cause when he claimed a magnificent diving one-handed catch off dangerous leg-spinner Yasir Shah to remove Moeen Ali. Adil Rashid was next to trudge back to the pavilion for seven when he chipped Irfan to the waiting Zafar Gohar at mid-on and David Willey required medical attention after being laid out by taking a fast and powerful delivery from Wahab Riaz directly to the midriff.
Instead of looking to finish with a flourish, England failed to trouble the boundaries for a long time and were merely hoping to hang on towards the end of their 50 overs. Willey made 13 before being deceived by a booming yorker from the impressive Ifran and the final wicket fell when an attempt to get Chris Woakes back on strike proved fruitless as he was run out by a direct hit from Ahmed.
In response, Pakistan notched a couple of early fours before Azhar Ali became Reece Topley's first ODI victim as he was trapped plumb lbw by a high, swinging ball. The new Hampshire signing quickly made it two early wickets when Bilal Asif suffered a similar fate with the help of the third umpire. Hafeez easily survived a contender for the worst appeal of the year to date when an lbw review showed nothing but bat, but Topley gave his side further hope by ending Khan's final one-day innings on nine as he was dismissed courtesy of a diving catch from Rashid.
Pakistan looked to have weathered the storm when Malik tossed his wicket away cheaply with a rather thoughtless leg-side chip that was well claimed by Roy. That wasted earlier referral soon came back to haunt England, though, when Azam survived a strong lbw call and no more wickets were to tumble as he and the masterful Hafeez successfully ensured victory with 38 balls to spare. The second ODI takes place on 13 November at the same venue, with the series moving on to Sharjah and finishing in Dubai later this month.