Twenty20 International novices Sam Billings and James Vince helped Eoin Morgan make up for any shortfall, as England experimented by leaving out two first-choice batsmen against Pakistan.
In the absence of the rested Joe Root and Jos Buttler, England posted 160 for five at the Dubai International Stadium as debutant Vince reacted well to instant pressure, and then Billings (53) upped the ante with his captain.
After Morgan won the toss and then England stumbled to 19 for three in this first of three day-night fixtures, he and Vince added an important 76 in 10 overs.
Then Billings smashed five fours and two sixes from just 25 balls with a display of power and invention which would have done even Buttler proud.
The surprise omissions of Root and Buttler - who hit a match-winning century from a national-record 46 balls on this same ground to clinch the one-day international series six days ago - came after Morgan spoke the previous day of giving all players an opportunity to impress before the ICC World Twenty20 in March.
But England were in trouble before many in a large crowd had completed their journey through heavy traffic to take their seats.
Jason Roy was first to go when, after hitting Sohail Tanvir over mid-off, he clogged the next ball straight into the hands of mid-on.
Alex Hales, who might already have been run out for nought and should have been caught-and-bowled for one, instead went on eight when he hit Anwar Ali to mid-off.
Then Moeen Ali could only contribute a six-ball duck, pushing Sohail to cover.
Morgan himself almost went for just five, but just managed to clear Mohammad Hafeez with a mis-pull off Wahab Riaz, and should have been caught at short third-man on 37 off Ali.
But Vince began to tick over at better than a run-a-ball, with a series of cultured conventional shots.
Replacing Root at number three, he had a maiden 50 in his sights until he began to struggle against Wahab's changes of pace and was eventually bowled for 41 aiming a big hit at another slower ball.
But Billings, in for Buttler, dominated a partnership of 65 in six overs with Morgan to race to his first international 50 in 24 balls and give England a total they could hope after all to defend.