Dubai: Saeed Ajmal took seven wickets for the first time in his Pakistan career as England capitulated for 192 in the first Test in Dubai.
There was limited turn for Ajmal on a sound batting surface, but his beguiling mix of offspinners and doosras drove England to distraction as they were dismissed by the 73rd over to leave Pakistan firmly in command.
England lost their first seven wickets for 94 and matters would have been much worse without a robust response by Matt Prior, who looked the most decisive of their batsmen from the outset and, with eight down, counterattacked against the spinners before running out of partners.
Pakistan, who batted in untroubled fashion for 15 overs in reply, would have been highly satisfied. They are careful not to describe the UAE as home, but it is fast becoming a favourite refuge. They enjoyed a jubilant first morning, claiming five wickets on a placid batting surface, and Ajmal made further inroads in the last two sessions to ensure that England's first outing as the No.1 ranked Test side in the world began disastrously.
When Ajmal unveiled his new mystery ball, the teesra, midway through the afternoon session, it proved to be an initial disappointment: a slingy, round-arm affair that Stuart Broad stoutly blocked. But he did not need a mystery ball. To England they were all mystery balls.
He was the last Pakistan bowler to be introduced into the attack but after ten deliveries he had had figures of 3 for 1, removing Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen. England briefly held firm after lunch, as Eoin Morgan and Matt Prior put on 39 for the sixth wicket but Ajmal then removed Morgan and Broad, both lbw sweeping, to maintain Pakistan's superiority. Only when Swann came to the crease did England play with adventure. Umar Gul wasted a Pakistan review in the last over before tea as he demanded a DRS verdict against Swann that had no hope of success.
Morgan, more content than many against spin, was lbw to the slog sweep, a decision by the Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford that was upheld by the third umpire after England, logically enough at 82 for 5, opted for the DRS. It was a weaker paddle sweep that did for Broad, who rarely believes he is out, and who also asked for a review, but again TV evidence ruled in the umpire's favour.
When England first encountered Ajmal, at Edgbaston 17 months ago, he took five wickets before they gradually worked him out as the series progressed. They looked more fraught against him second time around. The battle between Ajmal and Swann, both contenders as the best offspinner in the world, could be pivotal.
England won the toss, the pace of the pitch was gentle, there was no swing or seam, and just a hint of turn. However, just about everything attempted by Pakistan's impressive captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, came off as the cream of England batting disappeared in the first two hours.
There had been concerns about how England, who moved to No. 1 with high-adrenalin performances in front of packed crowds, would respond to the dead air of a virtually empty stadium, especially as their record in Asia is so mediocre - Bangladesh apart they had not won in their previous seven Test series on the subcontinent. Those doubts were now apparent to all.
Mohammad Hafeez's offspin was introduced in the sixth over to counter England's left-hand openers and he dismissed Alastair Cook in his first over. Cook attempted to work his first ball into the leg side and got a thick outside edge through point. Then Hafeez found gentle turn with his third delivery and Cook edged obligingly to the wicketkeeper.
Pakistan had opted for three spinners; England stuck to their successful formula of Graeme Swann's offspin supported by three fast bowlers. It was not long before England looked in denial.
Jonathan Trott was the one batsman to fall to pace, the bustling pace provided by Aizaz Cheema. His new-ball spell was curtailed to two overs but Trott found him a handful on his return. A walking clip to the square-leg boundary represented England's most authoritative moment of the session but he edged successive boundaries, the second of them flying over leg stump off the inside edge. Trott fell in Cheema's next over, strangled down the leg side as the bowler banged one in.
Ajmal struck with his sixth, seventh and tenth deliveries. Strauss had batted 42 balls for 19 when he misread the length, tried to pull a ball that was too far up to him, and was bowled.
Bell came in with his wrist heavily strapped, courtesy of a blow in the nets the previous day while batting against the dog thrower used by the England batting coach, Graham Gooch. He was met by a perfect doosra from Ajmal, which he edged to give the bowler his third wicket of the morning. Bell did not appear to read it but, first ball at the start of a new series, reading Ulysses would have been easier.
Bell then departed for a long conversation with Gooch, who exchanged dog thrower for any bone of consolation that he could toss his way.
Misbah had begun by taunting Pietersen with left-arm spin, his nemesis, in the shape of Abdur Rehman. He survived against Rehman, but not Ajmal. Pietersen played slightly across the ball and was hit on the front pad, just outside the crease. Oxenford was unconvinced but the wicketkeeper gestured excitedly for the DRS and his judgment was well founded, the replay suggesting that the ball would have struck halfway up leg stump. Pakistan's jubilation was complete.