In a potential banana-skin match against the Afghans, Eoin Morgan’s team were in dire straits at 6-57 halfway through their innings before a half-century stand between Moeen Ali (41 not out) and David Willey (20 not out) lifted them to a 7-142.
The 2010 winners looked more convincing with the ball, however, restricting Afghanistan to 9-127 to consign the associate team to their third consecutive defeat in the tournament.
With their second win in three group matches, England are second in the standings behind West Indies, who have won both their opening matches and enjoy a superior net run-rate.
Moeen, who also claimed a wicket, was adjudged man-of-the-match.
Morgan was left to rue his decision to bat after three wickets fell in off-spinner Mohammad Nabi’s first over, including that of the England captain for nought.
Jason Roy’s dismissal in the third over meant England did not get a 50-plus opening stand for the 16th consecutive Twenty20 International but bigger shocks awaited them.
Nabi (2-17) effected three dismissals in one over and held a brilliant catch to completely unhinge England’s vaunted batting order which had chased down a massive 230 to win a thriller against South Africa in their last game.
The 31-year-old caught James Vince (22) off his own bowling and castled Morgan for a golden duck.
Nabi did not get a hat-trick as his lbw appeal against Ben Stokes was turned down but the Afghan spinner ran out talismanic Englishman Joe Root after an almighty mix-up.
Nabi also dived to his left to scoop up a stunning catch to send back Jos Buttler and England had lost their top order soon after they reached 50 in the eighth over.
Moeen and Willey came up with some lusty hits towards the end to plunder 57 runs in 5.3 overs and lift their side to a respectable score.
Afghanistan made a poor start with the bat when Willey’s double strike reduced them to 13-3 inside three overs.
In between regularly tumbling wickets, the Afghan batsmen struck a few boundaries and Shafiqullah Shafaq blasted a belligerent 35 not but his team could get only eight of the 24 runs they needed from the final over bowled by Stokes.
England’s top-order capitulation against Afghanistan’s inexperienced bowling attack will worry their fans but skipper Morgan is unconcerned.
Six of the seven dismissed Englishmen fell to spin bowlers on a Feroz Shah Kotla track which, Morgan admitted, was far from a raging turner.
“We chased down 230 a game ago. It was simply a matter of not adapting,” Morgan told reporters after the 15-run victory.
“I think we’ve been practising similar things that we needed today but we actually just didn’t produce.”
Asked if the fear of loss against an associate nation crossed his mind, Morgan said: “No, absolutely not. Before the game, we knew a lot about Afghanistan.
“They are a good side and certainly if they are going to beat us, we need to under-perform.
“We let them in today by under-performing with the bat but I thought our bowling was outstanding. In the field as well, we were pretty good, which is a good sign.”
Looking ahead, Morgan said it was only a matter of adapting to the pitch, something he expects his team to do in their next Group One match against Sri Lanka on Saturday.
“Coming here and playing a T20 World Cup, I think this is the kind of wicket that every single one of us was expecting,” he said.
“We spoke a lot about it before we play. I think executions of our plans today were off by a long way.
“It’s very important between now and the Sri Lanka game that we sit down as a group and emphasise what we are trying to do and make sure it’s the right plan, reinforce that…”
Asked to explain his own dismissal for a golden duck, the England captain said: “An error in judgment. I got the message that it was turning and it didn’t turn. I misjudged.”
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