The glorious new era of English cricket began yesterday, 71 days after it was formally announced with the recapture of the Ashes. There might have been more obviously seductive venues for such an auspicious occasion but England, already hampered by moderate pre-series form and the absence of their captain, managed almost to make light of such considerations.
Considerably more light at any rate than there is here in Multan, with play being forced to start at 9.30am to take account of early nightfall.
Pakistan were not quite deep in the mire but 244 for six at the close of the first day of the series represented one foot entrenched in it with another dangling dangerously close to some nasty stuff.
Should matters for England go to plans - and cunningly-laid ones they looked - any serious partying is likely to be insignificant. On a scale of one to 10, if the celebratory hangover after the series against Australia reached 10, this one could enter the minus category. This hot, dusty, wonderfully hospitable town slap-bang in the middle of Pakistan is dry in more senses than one.
England produced precisely the sort of performance that should be expected from a side with the declared aim of becoming number one in the world. They overcame, in quick succession, three losses: of Michael Vaughan, the leader who had inspired them to the Ashes; of the toss on a flat, parched surface of the sort on which you would crave to bat if you were batting for your life and would almost be willing to reassess your life if you had to bowl; and seemingly of the initiative when Pakistan rattled along with alarming ease in the first session and a half.
After an insipid start when a combination of the pitch and some intermittently flashy strokeplay seemed to intimidate them, England controlled the tempo of proceedings. This is a crucial element of Test cricket, allowing the gradual appliance of pressure and thus concern in batsmen's minds.
There were those who doubted that Marcus Trescothick, Vaughan's stand-in as captain, would either be able to think on his feet in the same way, or to recall quite so prodigiously all those fielding schemes for different players.
In the event, Trescothick responded as an old hand who had been watching videos of batting strengths and weaknesses all his life instead of the soaps and could spot them at 30 paces. He was never afraid to shift a fielder, from short leg to slip, say, or to have a word. He regularly stuck two extra covers in place to block the favourite hunting grounds of Pakistan's players.
If Trescothick's bowling changes were not as ruthless as some of Vaughan's in the summer, these are different, alien conditions in which bowlers deserve some molly-coddling.
They were as admirable as they had been in the summer. True, the opening bowlers might have made more use of what conditions were in their favour and true Ashley Giles took time to find the right pace for the pitch (but you write off El Gileo at your peril). However, they stuck at it, they varied their pace, they tried slower balls, they niggled away at Pakistan - and Pakistan could not resist being niggled away at.
The key wicket of the day belonged to England's 36-year-old debutant, Shaun Udal. By then, Pakistan were beginning to look ominous at 161 for 1. Andrew Flintoff had curbed the initial gallop by winning a leg-before verdict from Billy Bowden against Shoaib Malik. It was a perfectly reasonable shout with Shoaib beaten on the back foot but it was slightly high and thus one of those that might be termed a daisy lbw: some days he gives them out, some days he doesn't.
Another wicket did not especially appear on the horizon and when Udal's first ball in Test cricket disappeared over extra cover for four, it receded a bit further. But Udal found his line, hurried them a little and found Salman Butt in mildly reckless mood.
On 74, after a previous muffed rehearsal, Butt drove at Udal, edged to first slip where the ball came off Trescothick's cap and looped behind. Geraint Jones reacted marvellously both in thought and deed, turning to see what was happening and racing after the ball to dive forward and clutch it in both hands.
This was a trigger moment - and you could say it was the first example of a head Butt to dismiss a batsman in Test history. Thirteen balls later, Mohammad Yousuf, in his first Test innings since renouncing his Christianity to become a Muslim, was deceived by Flintoff's yorker. It was bad enough for Pakistan that tea was taken at 181 for 3. In the over straight after it, worse, much worse followed.
Stephen Harmison's first ball was full and slanted in. It beat Younis Khan and this leg-before verdict was clear cut. Younis faced 106 balls for his 39. He was building for something, but England simply did not allow him to lay many bricks.
In came Hasan Raza, claimed to be the youngest Test debutant of all at 14 years and 227 days when he first played in October 1996 (though the Pakistan Cricket Board admitted long ago that the age was not correct). And out again. This was only his sixth Test in the nine years since and whatever age he is he must have aged 10 years as Harmison's sixth ball of the over did just enough to beat a crooked, irrational drive and clip off stump low down.
It was left to Inzamam ul-Haq, Pakistan's venerable captain, to restore what order he could. He played with calm, gentle authority. He had hit a lovely six off Udal in the over before tea, dancing down the pitch to loft over long-on. For 21 overs and 55 runs, precious in the scheme of things, he was kept company by the exciting wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal.
But England took the second new ball and Matthew Hoggard struck straight away. Trescothick pouched a regulation edge at first slip. It was England's day. So, those Ashes were not a fluke then.Reuse content