Two elements were vital for England to win the second Test. They had to bowl as well as they had in the first and bat about 15 times better. Towards the end of a gruelling second day here in Abu Dhabi yesterday, the initial objective having been achieved, the second began to unravel before a profusion of high-class spin bowling.
An agonising battle for survival that England seemed to be winning turned into a form of torture. Each ball delivered by Pakistan might have brought a wicket and when it did not there was usually a vociferous, unsettling appeal to create further discomfort. The ball was turning, bouncing and generally behaving in a diabolical fashion. Fielders crowded round the bat, jostling for the batsmen's attention, daring them to avoid hitting it in their direction.
Four wickets fell in the final session, all to spin and three of them to the man who has come to torment England, Saeed Ajmal, and his third to the final ball of the day. He had to toil for 25 overs before he struck, kept at bay by a diligent, though never assertive, second-wicket partnership of 139 between Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.
It was the fourth stand between them of three figures in 14 innings and they both did as they do. It was difficult to watch Cook against the slower bowlers early in the innings as England added 30 runs in the first 19 overs after their introduction. But Cook is the kind of batsman who will never be embarrassed out. It is his bounden duty to occupy the crease.
If anything, he was more fluent than his partner as the day wore on, at least planting one foot down the wicket, but these things are relative. The feeling persisted that one breach could lead to terrible damage.
From 166 for 1, England hobbled to the close on 207 for 5, the cream of their batting once more painfully exposed, and in the last 30 minutes all they wanted in the world was for proceedings to end. It was enthralling stuff, all the better for being witnessed for the first time in the series by nearly enough people to meet a lexicographer's definition of a crowd.
England started batting earlier than they might have expected when they brought Pakistan's first innings to an end in 16 balls at the start of the day with only one run added. The key wicket was that of Misbah-ul-Haq, who was leg before to another probing ball from Stuart Broad that nipped back.
Misbah asked for a review, presumably exercising the captain's prerogative since the ball was hitting middle. It was the forerunner of a bad day for Pakistani reviews. Had England's captain, Andrew Strauss, been offered a Pakistan total of 257 he would not have bothered bartering. But he might, just, have settled for the opponents scoring a few more if he could have had some runs himself.
The batting gods have deserted him in the desert. Barely had spin been introduced – though it was long enough for him to show his defective footwork against it – than he prodded a catch to short leg off part-time spinner Mohammad Hafeez.
But there was to be no reprise of what happened in Dubai in the first Test. England exuded diligence and throughout almost two sessions' worth of cricket, their second-wicket pair repelled what came their way.
It was never pretty, partly because that would be a contradiction in terms when Cook and Trott are batting, partly because they had to atone for their inexplicable approach last week in Dubai. Trott survived overambitious reviews of lbw appeals by a Pakistan side eager to make swift inroads.
The batsman was unperturbed. On his way to 74, he overtook Peter Richardson as the England batsman to have scored most Test runs without having hit a six. The idea of him hitting a six in these circumstances was preposterous and he played strictly within his limitations, largely ignoring any cross-batted shots. He still has plenty of other high-scoring, non-six-hitting names in his way but all the signs yesterday were that he can overhaul the likes of Glenn Turner, Bill Ponsford and the non-six-hitting daddy of them all, Vijay Manjrekar.
Just as it seemed possible that England might somehow see out the day with only one wicket down, the nature of the match changed entirely. Trott played half-forward to the left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman. It was a peach of ball, pitching before the batsman could reach it, turning and hitting off-stump.
Kevin Pietersen never settled, trying to impose himself but never quite sure of the most proficient way to do it. He used his feet often enough but the movement was as adroit as a dad dancing at his daughter's wedding. He departed shortly after Cook had been deceived by Ajmal's doosra and was palpably leg before. Five runs later, Pietersen advanced down the pitch again and his forcing shot elicited an inside edge on to his pad. The ball flew low to slip where Hafeez took an alert, low catch. Pietersen could consider himself unfortunate but, as with Strauss, the cricketing gods are not smiling on him at the moment.
To watch Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan in the next six overs was to see sporting hardship. They were bewildered and perplexed and three times Bell, beaten by spin, winked in sheer relief at the bowler. Morgan crouched low at the crease but it was of no help.
Somehow, they poked and prodded their way to the end of the day. Almost. To the penultimate ball of the final over, Morgan pushed forward and edged a turning ball to slip for Hafeez to snaffle another.
How far it seemed then from the day's opening overs when England's fast bowlers strutted their stuff. No sooner had Broad dismissed Misbah than Jimmy Anderson took two wickets in four balls, the second to the first catch of the innings. It would have been the first Test innings for 62 years in which none of the 10 wickets had fallen to catches. Since England had already dropped four, Junaid Khan could consider himself unlucky and history could feel cheated.
Abu Dhabi: Scoreboard
Second Test: England trail Pakistan by 50 runs with five first-innings wickets in hand
Second day of five; Pakistan won toss;
PAKISTAN First Innings (overnight: 256-7; Asad Shafiq 58)
*Misbah ul-Haq lbw b Broad: 84
173 balls 5 fours 4 sixes
Saeed Ajmal lbw b Anderson: 0
Umar Gul not out: 0
Junaid Khan c Swann b Anderson: 0
Extras (b8 lb1 nb2) 11
Total (all out, 96.4 overs): 257
Fall (contd): 257, 257, 257.
Bowling Anderson 19.4-5-46-2, Broad 24-4-47-4, Panesar 33-9-91-1, Swann 18-2-52-3, Trott 2-0-12-0.
ENGLAND First Innings
*A J Strauss c Shafiq b Mohammad Hafeez: 11
42 balls 1 four
A N Cook lbw b Ajmal: 94
220 balls 10 fours
I J L Trott b Rehman: 74
158 balls 7 fours
K P Pietersen c Mohammad Hafeez b Ajmal: 14
39 balls 2 fours
I R Bell not out: 4
29 balls 1 four
E J G Morgan c Mohammad Hafeez b Ajmal: 3
Extras (b4 lb2 nb1): 7
Total 5 wkts (84.5 overs): 207
Fall 27, 166, 198, 203, 207
To bat †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, J M Anderson,
M S Panesar.
Bowling Umar Gul 10-1-35-0, Junaid Khan 6-0-20-0, Mohammad Hafeez 19-4-40-1, Ajmal 29.5-5-67-3, Rehman 20-7-39-1.
Umpires S J Davis (Aus) and B N J Oxenford (Aus).
Third Umpire B F Bowden (NZ).
Match referee Ahsan Raza(Pak).
Remaining Test: 3-7 February Third Test (Dubai).