Nothing to report here, unless you love cricket
There will be those who insist that the last two days in Dubai have shown the quality of mercy and the power of redemption.
They believe that Pakistan’s excellent bowling and dogged turn with the bat have revealed what a mistake it would have been to cast the nation’s cricketers into the wilderness after the spot-fixing scandal in 2010.
That is one way of looking at it.
Catch me if you can: Jimmy Anderson celebrates his late wicket
Here is another. What we have seen so far is not a result of indulgence or understanding, but of the very real threat that the sporting world was preparing to deliver the ultimate sanction, having tired of Pakistan’s refusal to confront its corrupting influences.
It is the work of courtroom examination and prison sentences, of media exposure, of a message relayed to the last-chance saloon, telling its inhabitants to drink up and pack a suitcase.
We have finally got what we wanted from Pakistan. A rather uneventful day at the cricket. Fantastic.
There was nothing here to question, nothing to arouse suspicion even in the most cynical observer. Scoring patterns were not like a particularly badly executed foxtrot — slow, slower, quickest, quick, slow — and while there were some unexpected dismissals, Jonathan Trott bagging the wicket of a settled Younis Khan for instance, there was nothing disquietingly unfathomable on view.
Getting his man: Jonathan Trott takes the wicket of Younis Khan
Making a breakthrough: Trott is congratulated after his wicket
And some may feel that is a pity. They may think that it was Pakistan’s maverick nature that made them such compelling opponents. Yet as so much of that eccentricity aroused justified suspicion, it became colour we could do without.
Had the players and administrators that undermined cricket in Pakistan been allowed to continue unchecked, who knows what we would have seen on Wednesday.
It might have been more interesting but only in the way the fantasy of a West End show is more entertaining than the daily grind of life. What took place instead was a game of cricket; apologies if it wasn’t for you, but there may well be a few more long afternoons in the sun like this before the series is out.
‘We got wickets with really good balls today,’ said Stuart Broad, the pick of England’s bowlers, and one sensed that might not always have been the case in the past.
Pick of the bowlers: Stuart Broad took two wickets on day two of the Test
The rehabilitation of Pakistan cricket does not end with the imprisoned three. There are other notorious figures, subject to dark speculation and in one instance the threat of public exposure, who are also not here. Questions may be asked about Saeed Ajmal’s action, but not his integrity, and there is similar confidence in captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
Yes, off-spinner Ajmal’s seven wickets on Tuesday were not without controversy, but there is an ocean separating the legality of a doosra ball and the fixing of events in a game.
For Ajmal’s doosra, read the drying of the football before throw-ins at Stoke City, added buoyancy swimsuits in the Olympic pool or the use of the whip in horse racing. These are technical arguments about the method of playing the game. Chucking the ball and chucking the match are polar opposites. Whatever the final verdict on Ajmal’s doosra, it is unquestionable that he aims it to win.
If anything, Pakistan need more like him; more players to whom victory is all.
Going close: England's James Anderson, Graeme Swann and captain Andrew Strauss watch as the ball hits Misbah-ul-Haq
Who knows what Mohammad Aamer, the young fast bowler whose six-month prison sentence was trumped by a five-year ICC ban from cricket, makes of it all Does he keep abreast of developments from his cell Does he care Does he regret
The cancer had to be excised from Pakistan cricket for the sake of men like Ajmal, whose brilliance was undermined by the baser urges of the men around him.
Only by removing them and removing those whose lax executive leadership had allowed corruption to flourish, could Pakistan cricket and Pakistani cricketers realise their potential.
What went before had not worked. Judicial inquiries whose recommendations were largely ignored; life bans that were nothing of the sort; a culture of studied ignorance and denial.
Day at the cricket: Despite the lack of spectators there was a good afternoon's cricket in Dubai
It needed cricket’s equivalent of the nuclear option or Pakistan could not progress. Now here we are. Even when Misbah’s innings slowed to the pace of a three-legged camel, it still felt good.
This did not end up as the best day for Pakistan because England possess incredibly determined bowlers.
If Muhammad Hafeez, the Test’s top scorer so far with 88, is right and Pakistan are going to fall short of their target — by popular consent par for this track in the first innings is 400 — it is because, despite the evidence of the first day’s play, England are currently the best team in the world. If the batsmen fail, as they did on Tuesday, it is unlikely the bowlers will, too.
So, the opening pair having steered Pakistan through to 114, the next six wickets fell at a steady rate, evenly spread over an additional 174 runs. England’s seamers toiled, Graeme Swann kept it tight, without ever having the bamboozling impact of Ajmal, and Trott picked up what many England players regard as Pakistan’s key wicket — in his first over no less.
Keeping it tight: Graeme Swann kept the runs down
Only Chris Tremlett did not strike and the two late wickets, including that of Misbah lbw to Swann courtesy of a referred decision that no umpire would have made with the naked eye, edged the day in England’s favour.
Yet there are still 96 runs between the teams with three first-innings Pakistan wickets remaining, meaning the genuine tourists have had a little of their swagger removed with the series in its infancy.
There was even the odd handful of boisterous Pakistan fans inspired to come out by the events of the first day. It was all very encouraging.
You never know, if their numbers are bolstered by the arrival of the Emirati weekend on Friday and Saturday, the DSC Stadium might achieve an atmosphere that does not make this feel like the first Test match on the moon.