It was entirely possible to believe that the world's top Test team were on display yesterday. Pakistan were wonderful, rigorously disciplined in approach and ready to seize any opportunity, a bunch of players right at the peak of their game in conditions they adored, with a spinner to die for.
As for the side who are apparently at No 1 in the ICC rankings, they were plain dreadful. England, for it is they, were shoddy in thought and deed, forgetting almost completely what was required on the kind of pitch they were batting on, although they had talked of little else in the last week.
The virtues of patience were virtually cast aside in an attempt to show Saeed Ajmal who was boss. Since Ajmal took three wickets in his first 10 balls of the series and finished with a career-best 7 for 55 in dispatching England for 192, it was pretty obvious who was actually dictating terms. When Pakistan reached 42 without too much fuss in the 15 overs they batted, it put matters further into perspective.
Ajmal was as beguiling as his publicity said he would be. Superbly as he bowled, it was a more or less perfect example of the billing creating the performance: "Come and see the new wonder spinner, you'll never believe what he can do." If dodgy religious cults had it this easy, the world would be full of men in trances with glazed expressions.
If the much-hyped and so-called teesra was not much in evidence – except perhaps in the minds of his opponents – his off-spinner and his doosra were in perfect order. Not, it should be emphasised, that there was much turn in the pitch. By and large, England were bowled out by a spinner who was not spinning it. This was a condemnation of their state of mind as well as their confused method in dealing with him. If this continues for a moment longer they will lose the match and the series by a distance.
To this general exhibition of carelessness there was one shining exception. Matthew Prior, in before lunch on the first day when he could hardly have expected to be in much before tea on the second, was splendid in adversity. He eschewed his natural style, which is to be bristling with intent, and showed those above him in the order (not necessarily his betters) how they ought to have played.
It was 43 for 5 when Prior came in, with seven overs of a wreckage of a morning session left. His 70, containing only three fours, came from 154 balls, a scoring rate of 45.45. Since his overall scoring rate in Tests is 66.96, this alone demonstrated that he understood what had to be done.
This was his seventh fifty in his last 12 innings. England might not have lived up to the expectation that comes with being No 1 in the world but Prior demonstrated fully why he is the best wicketkeeper-batsman around in Test cricket.
The problems began well before Ajmal entered the attack in the 19th over and England were already architects of their downfall. In a cunning manoeuvre, Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's captain, put on his third spinner, Mohammad Hafeez, for the sixth over.
To his third ball, England's run machine, Alastair Cook, tried to cut a ball which was too close for the purpose and bounced a little too much. Adnan Akmal did not hold the catch smoothly but he held it. Shortly afterwards, Jonathan Trott was caught by the wicketkeeper, glancing down the leg side. It was a replica of his dismissal in the first innings of the tour and it bespeaks at least a temporary defect.
But England had seen nothing yet. Ajmal struck with the last ball of his first over when Andrew Strauss, batting with determined fluency, essayed a horrible pull to a straight ball and was bowled. The first ball of Ajmal's next over, and also Ian Bell's first ball, was a doosra, not the sort of perfectly pitched and flighted delivery you crave to receive at any time. He edged it to Akmal.
Eoin Morgan prevented the hat-trick, then took a single. Kevin Pietersen, walking forward with his bat in front of his pad, was struck on the back leg and, although the original appeal was turned down, he never had a prayer on review.
Had Morgan been stumped by Akmal a run later, the innings might have capsized before lunch. But he survived to put on 39 with Prior, riches indeed in the circumstances. If there had been some early encouragement in the pitch for the bowlers – and certainly nothing more – it looked as flat as an X Factor single as the afternoon session wore on.
But Morgan played a slog -sweep and was lbw, as was Stuart Broad, also playing with a horizontal bat shortly afterwards. Graeme Swann played with purpose and sense, scoring 34 in a stand of 57 with Prior, but choosing to hit straight.
He was bowled by one that turned from the left-arm spinner Abdur Rehman, but it was Ajmal who mopped up the rest of the tail. He had Chris Tremlett and Jimmy Anderson, who at least hung around a while, leg before to bring his tally of lbws in the innings to five. Only five bowlers before in Test cricket have had as many as five lbw verdicts upheld in an innings, all in the last quarter of a century. Ajmal may be helped, like most of his breed, by modern regulations but he is a spinner for the ages.
Straight up: What the laws say on bowling
Law 24, Clause 3 defines a fair delivery with respect to the arm: A ball is fairly delivered in respect of the arm if, once the bowler's arm has reached the level of the shoulder in the delivery swing, the elbow joint is not straightened partially or completely from that point until the ball has left the hand. This definition shall not debar a bowler from flexing or rotating the wrist in the delivery swing.
Pakistan v England: First Test. Dubai International Cricket Stadium (First day of five): Pakistan are trailing England by 150 runs with all first-innings wickets in hand; England won toss
England: First Innings
*A J Strauss b Ajmal 19, 43 balls 1 four
A N Cook c Akmal b Hafeez 3, 20 balls
I J L Trott c Akmal b Cheema 17, 29 balls 3 fours
K P Pietersen lbw b Ajmal 2, 29 balls
I R Bell c Akmal b Ajmal 0, 1 balls
E J G Morgan lbw b Ajmal 24, 47 balls 2 fours
†M J Prior not out 70, 154 balls 3 fours
S C J Broad lbw b Ajmal 8, 14 balls 1 four
G P Swann b Rehman 34, 65 balls 6 fours
C T Tremlett lbw b Ajmal 1, 18 balls
J M Anderson lbw b Ajmal 12, 15 balls 2 fours
Extras (lb2) 2
Total (72.3 overs) 192
Fall 1-10, 2-31, 3-42, 4-42, 5-43, 6-82, 7-94, 8-151, 9-168.
Bowling Umar Gul: 12-4-35-0 (5-2-12-0, 4-1-15-0, 3-1-8-0), Aizaz Cheema: 12-0-43-1 (2-0-7-0, 4-0-19-1, 6-0-17-0), Mohammad Hafeez: 6-3-5-1 (4-3-2-1, 1-0-1-0, 1-0-2-0), Abdur Rehman: 18-5-52-1 (7-4-5-0, 11-1-47-1), Saeed Ajmal: 23.3-7-55-7 (16-5-40-5, 8.3-4-15-2)
Pakistan: First Innings
Mohammad Hafeez not out 22, 48 balls 3 fours
Taufeeq Umar not out 18, 43 balls 3 fours
Extras (lb1 nb1) 2
Total (for 0, 15 overs) 42
To bat Azhar Ali, Younus Khan, * Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, †Adnan Akmal, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.
Bowling J M Anderson: 5-1-16-0 (one spell), C T Tremlett: 3-0-13-0 (one spell), S C J Broad: 4-2-3-0 (one spell), G P Swann: 3-1-9-0 (one spell)
Progress England 50 in 25.2 overs, Lunch: 52-5 in 28 overs (Morgan 6, Prior 4), 100 in 44.2 overs, Tea: 139-7 in 55 overs (Prior 37, Swann 27), England 150 in 58.3 overs, Prior 50: off 115 balls (2 fours), England 192 all out in 72.3 overs. Pakistan Close: 42-0 in 15 overs (Hafeez 22, Umar 18).
Umpires B F Bowden (NZ) & B N J Oxenford (Australia).
Third Umpire S J Davis (Australia).
Match Referee J Srinath (India).