ABU DHABI // England shaded a hard-fought first day in the second Test against Pakistan at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, although the nature of the surface suggested that whatever advantage they had will become far clearer once they face up to Saeed Ajmal.
The pitch was helping spin appreciably within the first hour as Misbah-ul-Haq won the toss and chose to bat – only the second time on eight occasions he has done so. He then had to validate his own decision, standing firm with a 12th half-century in his 14th Test as captain as Pakistan ended the day on 256 for seven.
England had sprung their own surprise by selecting Monty Panesar as a second spinner alongside Graeme Swann and by day's end, the pair had picked up four wickets between them. They found enough turn early in the morning and had England held on to all their chances, they might have boasted of a greater ascendancy.
The pair dismissed Pakistan's openers in the hour before lunch and with Stuart Broad bringing two more after lunch, Pakistan were wobbling at 103 for four at one stage. That the top four had all been bowled, the first time in Pakistan's history, was the day's quirky statistic.
But with Asad Shafiq, Misbah put on an enterprising 100-run stand to steady Pakistan. Shafiq fell victim to his own aggression soon after tea, and although Misbah batted smartly as the day closed, on balance it belonged to England.
"At the start of the day if we had said we will have taken seven wickets, we will take that," Panesar said. "On this sort of pitch on the first day, as a bowling unit everyone has bowled well and obviously some chances are going to be taken and some dropped, but overall I think all we are at pleased with the day."
For all the help it gave to spin, Broad looked the most threatening bowler, keeping up a healthy pace and finding movement on occasion. It was his dismissals of Azhar Ali and Younis Khan and later Adnan Akmal with the second new ball, that set the day's tone.
"He bowled very well," Panesar said. "He had aggressive lines and a good bumper which made the batsmen uncomfortable. Jimmy [Anderson] early on created some chances and I think with the new ball the bowlers are definitely in the game."
But with Misbah still at the crease, Pakistan feel any total approaching 300 may be a decisive one. Although the Pakistan captain hit two sixes early in his innings, he did not hit a four till the 139th ball he faced; thereafter he struck four more in little time and closed the day by hitting Panesar for two more sixes in the last over.