It was nobody’s day. Not England’s, not Pakistan’s. Not Gary Ballance’s, not Moeen Ali’s. It was not even Sohail Khan’s day, although the opening bowler whom Pakistan belatedly selected was the pick of their pace bowlers.
Nothing wrong with that either: all the more reason, in fact, to turn up for day two. Just because chapter one did not highlight a likely culprit, like the vicar in the conservatory with the spanner, it does not mean that chapter two of our whodunit will be bland.
If the opening day belonged to anyone, it was to cricket’s invisible enemy. The cross-wind helped Pakistan’s bowlers to swing the ball but it was a nuisance for everybody else, especially their fielders and Yasir Shah who bowled a noble spell of 27 overs uninterrupted except by tea.
The wind stalked the stands and tugged at the players’ clothing as incessantly as a brat pleading for sweets.
If there was any mystery on day one, it was the question of where Sohail had been hitherto in this series. So hale and whole-hearted, like Sarfraz Nawaz a generation ago, he brought the variety which the Pakistanis had never had with a three-man, left-arm pace attack.
Sohail had bowled so well in the tourists’ opening game at Taunton he should have been picked for Lord’s on that basis, no matter that he did not swing the ball at Hove. All he lacked was stamina after not bowling earlier in this series: Sohail would have had five wickets for 75 but for a four-over spell before the second ball which he would not have had to attempt if Pakistan had possessed a fifth bowler.
A peach dismissed Alex Hales, and an ambitious back-foot force against Sohail did for Root. Cook, meanwhile, sailed along at not far short of a run a ball, as he has done in the latest lease of life that is this series, until Rahat Ali produced a nip-backer.
Like children without an inheritance, James Vince and Ballance were left to fend for themselves by Cook and Root, and they did a job at 75 for three.
Vince, apart from one helmet-raising cover-drive, waited for the bowlers to come to him rather than chasing them. It was modest progress, as when he got out to a nothing shot, not a bad shot.
One by one Pakistan snuffed English partnerships out. The Ballance-Bairstow stand promised most – left-handed accumulator and right-hander of bristling intent – but Sohail broke it with his fourth wicket when Bairstow slashed rather than cut.
In the absence of Ben Stokes, England’s normal No 6, Bairstow had batted as if he were still a counterattacking No 7.
Ballance was caught glancing down the legside, Shah’s only reward for his unglamorous role of container, and one of five dismissals for Sarfraz Ahmed. The drills imposed by Pakistan’s new fielding coach, Regimental Sergeant-Major Steve Rixon of Australia are taking effect: the tourists took eight chances out of eight.