When England came to play in the desert they can hardly have expected to find themselves all at sea. They spent most of the second day of the first Test here yesterday trying to avert that peculiar fate.
It was a long and deliberate exercise in damage limitation, a position dictated by their reckless disregard for probity the previous day. There was no surprise that they finished the day behind Pakistan but that the deficit was only 96 could be a considered a triumph.
Through bowling that was largely accurate and designed to discourage ambition, or perhaps to tempt it, they tried to wear down Pakistan. The exercise was mutual. Pakistan's dramatic recent improvement has been based on playing defensively, trying to bore the opposition to defeat.
England took two wickets in the first session, two in the second and three in the third, with two in the final two overs that may ultimately bear the most fruit. The strategy was that if they could keep the arrears to not much more than 100 they were still in the game and with Pakistan, on 288 for 7, forced to bat fourth anything could happen.
The wickets were distributed between Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Jimmy Anderson and most unexpectedly Jonathan Trott. It was hard and unremitting work and so far England have failed to take wickets with the first new ball and managed only one with the second. They have to improve on that return, otherwise the dog days will pile up. Their bowling generally, however, was exemplary.
Mohammad Hafeez became the top scorer in the match so far, stealthily reaching 88 before he was lbw trying to sweep Swann. Before the close Pakistan's obdurate captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, who seemed to have bedded down for the night and looked fully prepared to outstay his welcome, went the same way for 52, England's review of a tight call having succeeded.
It was a vital breach. Five years ago, Misbah came excruciatingly close to winning the first World Twenty20 for Pakistan, the last man out trying to improvise a dinky paddle shot which was caught at fine leg. He has utterly expunged that sort of nonsense from his Test cricket lexicon. He might, if a rush of blood seizes him, play a drive through extra cover or a whip through the on side, but mostly he blocks and accumulates. He knows what works on these pitches.
Perhaps in their wildest dreams England might have supposed that Swann could reprise the achievements of his fellow off spinner, Saeed Ajmal, and run through Pakistan. It never looked remotely possible. Indeed, worryingly for England, there were passages when Swann was combatted with disturbing ease, picked off by the batsmen at just over three runs an over as though they were leafing half-heartedly through the morning paper.
But England knew that they would be kept in the field for 120 overs or so during this series and that wickets would not tumble at their command as they have tended to do lately. The fault was in not having scored sufficient runs.
It was Broad, as he frequently did last summer when he got his mojo back, who made the initial incisions in the opposition to put England into the match for the first time. Pakistan's opening pair, Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar, have become an established partnership in the last year and they became the first Pakistani opening pair to record five first-wicket stands of above 100.
Apart from a short burst in the morning, they never went at more than three an over. They didn't need to. It was a surprise when Broad, coming on for his second spell, had Hafeez dropped from a miscued pull by Chris Tremlett running to his right from mid-on.
There had been no false shots until then, but for England it seemed important. Hafeez had already been reprieved when Ian Bell missed the stumps from square leg as the batsman, sent back after calling for a single, was well short of his ground. It was a tough chance, as was Tremlett's, but precisely the sort that England have to take on this tour.
It was a bigger surprise when, to Broad's next ball, Taufeeq played forward and was beaten and bowled by one that did just enough. Thus spurred, Broad bowled the best spell by a seamer in the match and persuaded Azhar Ali, another Pakistani batsman regularly defying the notion of them being wristy strokemakers whose mission in life is to entertain, to cavort with a ball outside off.
After Hafeez fell to Swann, Younis Khan was ensnared by an off-cutter in Trott's first fill-in over. Had the term not already been invented, dibbly-dobbly would have had to be minted for Trott. He has no pace to speak of, but he bowls accurately enough to make players think that they would not want to get out to him. A little off-cutter did for an astonished Younis.
It was Trott's third Test wicket and with due respect to Jahurul Islam and Tharanga Paranavitana this was by far his most prestigious. Of those to have scored 1,000 Test runs for Pakistan, Younis has the highest Test average, marginally ahead now of Javed Miandad on 52.8. It is some scalp to have and Trott understandably scythed the air.
Asad Shafiq fell in the first over with the second new ball, Anderson's opening wicket of the series, with wicketkeeper Matt Prior swooping low to his right to scoop a one-handed catch. England's cup virtually floweth over when Swann removed Misbah and then Anderson snaked one through Abdur Rehman's defences. Not all at sea, but afloat once more.
Timeline: How the second day unfolded
7.17am (UK time) Pakistan 102-0: Mohammad Hafeez cuts Graeme Swann for four to bring up the century opening stand with Taufeeq Umar.
7.31am Taufeeq Umar out, 58 (Pak 114-1): Stuart Broad ends an increasingly imposing opening stand, hitting the top of Taufeeq's off stump.
7.47am Azhar Ali, 1 (128-2): Broad moves one away, it catches the thinnest-possible outside edge and is caught by Matt Prior.
9.41am Mohammad Hafeez, 88 (176-3): Swann ends Hafeez's excellent innings, as the batsman misses a straight ball and is leg before wicket.
10.27am Younis Khan, 37 (202-4) The introduction of Jonathan Trott's medium pace works perfectly: Khan is trapped in front, another LBW victim.
11.34am Asad Shafiq, 16 (231-5): An exceptional one-handed diving catch from Prior does for Shafiq, who had edges one from Jimmy Anderson.
1.14pm Misbah-ul-Haq, 52 (283-6): A review removes Misbah: a sharp Swann off-break did not convince Billy Bowden but HawkEye gives him out.
1.19pm Abdur Rehman, 4 (288-7): England finish on a high as Anderson clips Rehman's off-stump with a beauty that shapes into the left-hander.
First Test, Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Second day of five; England won toss
England: First Innings 192 (†M J Prior 70*; Ajmal 7-55)
Pakistan: First Innings (overnight: 42-0)
Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Swann 88, 164 balls 11 fours 1 six
Taufeeq Umar b Broad 58, 113 balls 10 fours
Azhar Ali c Prior b Broad 1, 8 balls
Younis Khan lbw b Trott 37, 87 balls 4 fours
*Misbah ul-Haq lbw b Swann 52, 154 balls 5 fours
Shafiq c Prior b Anderson 16, 33 balls 1 four
†Akmal not out 24, 67 balls 3 fours
Rehman b Anderson 4, 3 balls 1 four
Extras (b2 lb4 nb2 pens 0) 8
Total 7 wkts (104.3 overs) 288
Fall 1-114 2-128 3-176 4-202 5-231 6-283 7-288.
To bat Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.
Bowling Anderson 23.3-7-57-2, Tremlett 20-6-48-0, Broad 26-6-72-2, Swann 27-3-89-2, Trott 8-2-16-1.
Umpires B F Bowden (Aus) and B N J Oxenford (Aus).
Third Umpire S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee J Srinath (India).
25-29 January Second Test (Abu Dhabi).
3-7 February Third Test (Dubai).