At no time over three days did England look like the best Test team on the planet. But when push came to shove and the chips were down, if chips are ever down in such congenial circumstances, they won their opening match against the ICC Combined Associate and Affiliates XI by three wickets yesterday.
That is the point of being ranked No 1: winning from unpromising positions. No sooner had they secured an unlikely victory than the circumstances grew a lot more unpromising and the position a lot less congenial.
Tim Bresnan, who has developed in the past year as an authentic fast-bowling, reverse-swinging all-rounder, will play no part in the tour because the elbow on which he had an operation in early November has failed to recover. Both player and team management were confident that he would be fit to play in the Test series against Pakistan, for which he was earmarked as the third seamer, but he will fly home today from the UAE after an aborted net session here yesterday.
After bowling a few trial balls in the nets Bresnan, who had bone fragments removed, was left in extreme pain and the management knew that meant he would not recover in time for the Test series which begins next week. With Graham Onions already here as cover, there will be no need for a call-up from home.
England captain Andrew Strauss said: "[Bresnan] had an injection and a good rest and we were all expecting him to be absolutely fine but it is very painful. He has played a very full part in our victories both with the bat and the ball. This has come from left field. We want him to go home and ensure he recovers for the one-day series."
England have won all 10 Test matches in which Bresnan has appeared and his absence leaves them slightly unbalanced. As Strauss indicated, they have deep resources of fast bowlers but Bresnan's expertise with the older ball – and his calmness with the bat late in the order – have been attributes.
It opens the way for Steven Finn, who took three wickets in the win against the Combined XI and showed flashes of the increased speed he demonstrated late last season. He might not have Bresnan's variations but even on the benign pitches of the UAE his pace and steep bounce may pay dividends.
Chris Tremlett is also in contention for a place in England's second and final warm-up match which starts tomorrow. He has been hors de combat so far with an eye infection but clearly needs to bowl some overs to have a chance of playing in the first Test.
Onions may well be happy simply to be staying on tour. When he limped home from Bangladesh early in 2010, he was subsequently out of cricket for a year after back and knee surgery. It has been a long and painful road back.
There is plenty now for England to think about before the Test series starts next week. Pakistan arrive in the country today and are bristling with confidence. Early days though these are, England will need to put their batting in order as quickly as they can. Set 261 to win yesterday after the Combined XI declared at 164 for nine, they all but made a mess of it.
A galloping start by Strauss, who made a largely controlled 76, and Alastair Cook was all but frittered away. The middle order all lacked powers of concentration and their weakness against the off spin of Mohammad Nabi of Afghanistan hardly augured well with Saeed Ajmal lying in wait. It was left to Steve Davis to steer them home and, as the reserve wicketkeeper, he will not be there next time.
ICC Global Cricket Academy (Final day of three): England beat ICC Combined Associate and Affiliate XI by three wickets
ICC COMBINED XI First Innings 281 (Viljoen 98)
ENGLAND First Innings 185-8 dec. (Cook 76)
ICC COMBINED XI Second Innings (Overnight 90-5)
†Mohammad Shahzad c Broad b Pietersen 74
104 balls 3 fours
Mohammad Nabi c Cook b Broad 13
47 balls 2 fours
C Viljoen run out 3
R M Haq not out 26
37 balls 5 fours
W B Rankin b Finn 0
Extras (lb1 nb3) 4
Total (for 9 dec, 55.3 overs) 164
Fall: 1-0, 2-2, 3-8, 4-31, 5-71, 6-101, 7-119, 8-162, 9-164.
Bowling: J M Anderson 18-7-62-2, S C J Broad 14-7-22-3, G P Swann 10-1-33-1, S T Finn 10.3-4-34-1, K P Pietersen 3-0-12-1.
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A J Strauss c Williams b Haq 78
96 balls 1 six 13 fours
A N Cook c Haq b Williams 26
29 balls 5 fours
I J L Trott c Porterfield b Nabi 35
70 balls 5 fours
K P Pietersen c Rankin b Dockrell 1
I R Bell c Stirling b Nabi 39
59 balls 1 six 4 fours
E J G Morgan c Shahzad b Rankin 3
†S M Davies not out 37
46 balls 2 fours
S C J Broad c Dockrell b Nabi 31
46 balls 1 six 2 fours
G P Swann not out 1
Extras (b8 lb1 nb1) 10
Total (for 7, 60.1 overs) 261
Did not bat S T Finn, J M Anderson.
Fall 1-63, 2-133, 3-136, 4-180, 5-187, 6-199, 7-260.
Bowling W B Rankin 15-1-58-1, C Viljoen 4-0-28-0, Mohammad Nabi 17-1-66-3, C G Williams 4-1-20-1, G H Dockrell 6-0-28-1, R M Haq 12.1-1-42-1, P R Stirling 2-0-10-0.
Umpires B B Pradhan (Nep) and Zameer Haide (Pak).