When history is not simply beckoning but virtually pulling you through the door the effect can be dumbfounding. England displayed symptoms of a team who knows what lies on the other side but can barely believe it is there.
Confronted also with a pitch that refused to comply with batsmen's wishes they froze in wonderment in the fourth Test. The series victory against India that they crave was no nearer by the end of the first day, they could only worry that it was further away with a total of 199 for 5, eked out from 97 overs.
Yet they had shown themselves willing to gamble in way that was almost cavalier, by selecting for his Test debut the 21-year-old Yorkshireman, Joe Root. If this was finely balanced selection it also seemed to be outrageous chutzpah.
Root was preferred not only to Samit Patel who had occupied the No 6 position for the entire series but also to the middle order batsmen, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow, a fellow Yorkie who made 95 and 54 against South Africa in August.
By the close, whatever it was the selectors had seen in Root beyond his John Wayne gait, which made it seem he was going out to kiss Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man rather than to bat for England in the parlous position of 119 for 4, it was a highly intelligent piece of judgement. Root was contained, assured and above all unbeaten in a sixth-wicket partnership with the trusty Matt Prior which had reached 60 and saved England's day. There can be no better praise than that he looked the part from the moment he cover drove his third ball for three.
The position of the series and the state of the pitch perhaps both affected England in equal measure. All (all indeed) the tourists need to do is to avoid defeat and they will win a Test series in India for the first time in 28 years, the first team from anywhere to do so in eight years.
The pitch declined to play ball. It was low, slow, turgid and England decided early in the piece that it demanded batting to match. Kevin Pietersen, their top scorer with 73, was almost as restricted as his colleagues and delivered a damning verdict.
"It was tough, the toughest one I have played Test cricket on in terms of having to play strokes," he said. "I don't know what the wicket is going to do but I don't think it's going to get better."
Of Pietersen's 51 scores above 50 in Test matches, in only one has his scoring rate of 38.82 been slower and that was on a pitch in Antigua four years ago that was prepared with only 36 hours' notice. There was the odd vintage moment but no sense of sustained authority.
Perhaps England should have settled as early as possible on a scoring rate of two an over which is what they finished on. Perhaps they had their eye too firmly on the greater prize and were restrained accordin gly.
Three of their batsmen, including Pietersen if to a lesser extent, were complicit in their own downfall. Jonathan Trott, after doing some solid groundwork, left a ball from the debutant Ravi Jadeja, which did not turn (he might have suspected this as nothing else had done) and went straight on to hit off stump.
Ian Bell was more culpable, having defended 28 balls and then driving limply to short extra cover. This series has been forgettable for Bell, a classic strokemaker, who has brought about his own dismissal in three of his five innings.
Pietersen was thwarted not only by the pitch but by India's determination to curtail his scoring options by posting men on the boundary. The odd flourish was interspersed with decent strokes going unrewarded and vigilant defence. It was not a surprise when he flicked low in the air to mid-wicket.
The wicket that India wanted above all had come early in the day. England were already one down, with Nick Compton having edged a chance behind from one which, oddly, lifted, but Alastair Cook was still there. Cook is inevitably still there.
When Ishant Sharma, the only seamer among four spinners in India's side, hit him on the pad outside off stump, the lbw appeal should have been turned down. Instead, the umpire Kumar Dharmasena, who had already rejected a much closer one against Trott, sent England's record-breaker and captain on his way.
Without him, it was hard going. Cook, who had made only one from his 28 balls, looked fully prepared to grind India out of it. The day was threatening to turn nasty when Prior, an exemplary Test cricketer, joined Root at the crease. They went unfussily about their business, aware that the pitch was easier to stay in on than get out on as long as you were prepared to apply yourself. In some ways, Root, who is only 21, seemed like a throwback. After his first four early on, he barely played a shot in anger but he still looked purposeful.
Pietersen, who is not easily impressed, was won over. "He's his own man, he played some good cricket, he showed signs of being a Test cricketer." Not only does he walk like Wayne, he has true grit.
We are unable to print live pictures from today's play after a dispute with the Indian Cricket Board, which has refused access to major picture agencies, which we view as a restriction on the press
Timeline: How the first day of the Fourth Test unfolded
4am GMT Play begins: England win toss and bat first
Alastair Cook surprises everyone by actually winning the toss and opts to bat. Uncapped Joe Root replaces Samit Patel while Tim Bresnan comes in for the injured Steven Finn.
4:17am: Wicket, Compton c Dhoni b Sharma 3
Ishant Sharma bangs one into the slow pitch and Nick Compton nicks his backfoot defensive shot. 3-1
4:45am: Wicket, Cook lbw Sharma 1
Cook misses one, prodding forward and the finger is raised. Outside the line of off-stump but with no DRS, the captain has to trudge off. 16-2
6:01am: Lunch, England 61-2
A slow session on a ridiculously slow pitch. Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott nudge and nurdle their way to the midday interval without too much trouble.
7:46am: Wicket, Trott b Jadeja 44
Steady progress is undone by Trott's bizarre decision to leave a straight ball. Ravi Jadeja gleefully accepts his first Test wicket. 102-3
8:26am: Wicket, Bell c Kohli b Chawla 1
Ian Bell drives sedately into the hands of Virat Kohli at short extra-cover. Another gift for India and Bell's torrid tour continues. 119-4
8:41am: Tea, England 133-4
The visitors reach tea four wickets down, despite Pietersen's best efforts to run out Joe Root in the final over before the break. Evenly balanced ahead of the final session.
9:09am: Wicket, Pietersen c Ojha b Jadeja 73
England's festive gift-giving continues as Pietersen dinks a tame delivery straight to mid-wicket. 139-5
11:02am: Stumps, England 199-5
Root (31) walks off with Matt Prior (34) having dug in well in the evening session. Honours are just about even at the close.
First day of five: England: 199 for 5; England won toss
England: First Innings
*A N Cook lbw b Sharma 1, 28 balls
N R D Compton c Dhoni b Sharma 3, 12 balls
I J L Trott b Jadeja 44, 133 balls 7 fours
K P Pietersen c Ojha b Jadeja 73, 188 balls 10 fours
I R Bell c Kohli b Chawla 1, 28 balls
J E Root not out 31, 110 balls 1 four
†M J Prior not out 34, 83 balls 3 fours
Extras (b5 lb7) 12
Total (for 5, 97 overs) 199
Fall 1-3, 2-16, 3-102, 4-119, 5-139.
To bat T T Bresnan, G P Swann, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling spells I Sharma: 19-7-32-2 (6-2-8-2; 6-1-17-0; 2-2-0-0; 2-1-4-0; 3-1-3-0), P P Ojha: 27-9-50-0 (10-4-14-0; 7-3-15-0; 2-1-6-0; 4-1-7-0; 4-0-8-0), R A Jadeja: 25-13-34-2 (4-2-12-0; 4-3-7-0; 8-5-3-1; 6-2-10-1; 2-1-1-0; 1-0-1-0), P P Chawla: 13-1-39-1 (5-1-14-0; 7-0-23-1; 1-0-2-0), R Ashwin: 13-2-32-0 (8-2-20-0; 5-0-12-0).
India G Gambhir, V Sehwag, C A Pujara, S R Tendulkar, V Kohli, R A Jadeja, *†M S Dhoni, R Ashwin, P P Chawla, I Sharma, P P Ojha.
Progress England: 50 in 25.1 overs, Lunch: 61-2 in 33 overs (IJL Trott 28, K P Pietersen 28), K P Pietersen: 50 off 108 balls (7 fours), 100 in 48.5 overs, Tea: 133-4 in 65 overs (K P Pietersen 68, J E Root 10), 150 in 70.4 overs.
Umpires H D P K Dharmasena (SL) & R J Tucker (Aus).