England descended to a hapless defeat inside three days after a second successive batting collapse against Pakistan at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
The tourists fell alarmingly short of their billing in their first series as world Test number ones, only Jonathan Trott delaying their downfall as they were bowled out for 160 to lose this first match of three by 10 wickets.
It was a sixth defeat in their last seven international matches for an England team rightly lauded last summer for their Test exploits after a sixth consecutive series win took them past India to the top of the International Cricket Council rankings.
It was widely predicted that they would face a stern examination of those world-beating credentials here, and throughout the remainder of a tough 2012 Test calendar.
But few could have imagined they would stumble so ignominiously at the first hurdle, albeit against fast-improving opponents. By their own admission, England batted poorly in their first-innings 192 - and it seemed unthinkable that they would not perform much better second time round.
Yet after off-spinner Saeed Ajmal - who finished with a match haul of 10 for 97 - had done so much of the damage on the first day, this time England lost their top four to seamer Umar Gul (four for 63).
During an awkward 40 minutes of batting up to lunch - after Adnan Akmal (61) had frustrated England's attempted fightback with a gritty half-century - Andrew Strauss was the only batsman to go, in contentious circumstances. He appeared confident he had made no contact when Billy Bowden gave him out caught-behind down the leg-side off Gul.
But despite the absence of a Hotspot mark on replay, Strauss was disappointed on DRS as the third umpire heard an apparently telling noise and saw no compelling evidence either that there was definitely no impact with bat or glove.
Matters soon went from delicate to dire for England after lunch.
Alastair Cook got in an ugly tangle against Gul, another caught-behind down the leg-side, and then Kevin Pietersen went for an eight-ball duck after smashing a pick-up pull straight into the hands of deep square-leg.
England's batsmen have not appeared, several times, to help themselves in this match - but Pietersen's dismissal was still an obvious worst example.
Ian Bell's attempts to help Trott dig England out of trouble foundered against Ajmal, and he used up his team's final DRS option for good measure after playing defensively inside a doosra and being hit on the back pad.
Pakistan squandered a review for lbw by Ajmal against Trott, who began to hint at permanence as he and Eoin Morgan more than doubled the score.
But Morgan's departure, caught behind on the back-foot defence to Abdur Rehman, was another crushing blow for England's optimists.
There was then little time for any positive thinking after tea, especially after Trott had gone one short of his 50 when he tried to cut Gul but could only edge behind.
The end seemed nigh once Matt Prior, England's first-innings saviour, was lbw on the back foot to an off-break that kept very low - and although last pair Graeme Swann and James Anderson did enough to make Pakistan bat again, it was a token gesture.
Akmal had earlier helped Pakistan turn an overnight 288 for seven into 338 all out.
Pakistan's wicketkeeper batted with good sense and significant skill to eke out important runs with the tail, in his 117-ball 50.
England knew they needed to finish Pakistan off quickly on the third morning, having started this match so poorly.
They seemed set to do so when Stuart Broad prevented any potential aggravation from Gul by seeing the useful tailender off for a duck, caught driving to point in the first over of the day.
Pakistan had then lost three wickets for six runs.
But Akmal and Ajmal dug in to put on a precious 30 more before England managed to strike again.
The day's first arguable DRS ruling went against Pakistan, concluding Bowden was right to give Ajmal out caught at short-leg off Swann (four for 107) via a suspicion of glove and pad.
But Akmal was still able to add 19 more runs with number 11 Aizaz Cheema, who did not face a single delivery, before running past an off-break down the leg-side from Swann to be easily stumped.
It already seemed Pakistan had nonetheless done enough with the bat to push home the advantage won by their bowlers - but no one expected England's batsmen to fold again in under a day.