It has been a long road from the valleys to the desert, but Monty Panesar kept the faith and claimed just reward with his 40th Test cap for England.
There was a wicket, too, albeit at the second time of asking, in 33 overs of toil for the 29-year-old on day one of the second Test at the Zayed Stadium.
Panesar could not stop Pakistan reaching 256-7 by stumps – Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann did most of the damage with the ball, sharing the other six wickets between them.
But had James Anderson clung on to a sharp catch at slip off the slow left-armer, Misbah-ul-Haq’s unbeaten 83 would have been a mere 30.
That miss, the most costly of four by England, encapsulated a day which might have been so much better for the tourists as they seek to battle back in this second match of three after their hammering in Dubai last week.
But none of that context could detract from what it all meant to Panesar, back in the Test fold for the first time since July 2009 – when he played such a heroic role with bat rather than ball to salvage a hugely-significant last-ditch Ashes draw in Cardiff.
His resistance there helped to pave the way for a series victory which bred confidence in the Andrew Strauss-Andy Flower axis of captain and coach which would lead England to the top of the International Cricket Council world rankings.
On a pitch which favoured spin over seam as expected here, they called on him again and Panesar was delighted, if a little tense, after learning of his involvement just a few minutes before the toss.
“I only found out (yesterday morning). I was really excited, and the nervous energy started to build up,” he said. “I was a little bit nervous, making my second debut after being out of the team for such a long time.”
The anticipation of impending fulfilment would have been too much, had he been told 24 hours earlier.
“I might have been awake all night, trying to practise my action in front of the mirror so it avoided me doing that,” added Panesar, who is especially thankful to England spin-bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed for setting him on the path – via Sussex from Northamptonshire – which has at last resulted in his Test return.
“When you’re out of the team you can get frustrated, and ‘Mushy’ kept that self-belief going.
“There are times when self-doubt does creep in and you think, ‘Is it ever going to happen?’. You’re not human if you don’t get that when you’re out of the England team.
“You need good coaches, good people around you to help you get through that – and that’s why Sussex is a really good place for me.
“I just kept on going and waited for an opportunity, and (yesterday) I got one.”
Panesar did not sweat too long either for that first wicket back. But he did have to keep his cool, having dropped a return chance before clean-bowling Mohammad Hafeez with his very next delivery.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Maybe I need to do a bit more caught-and-bowled practice’,” he said.
“I should have taken it. But then the next ball, I think I meant to do that – where you hit the leather, and it skids on.”
Panesar has a familiar ally to bowl with, his old Northamptonshire team-mate Swann having made such a name for himself for England.
“I was delighted to bowl in tandem with my spin twin, Swanny,” he said.
“I’m enjoying that– ball spinning away, ball turning in creates quite a lot of pressure among different batsmen – and we help each other. It can be very effective. We see each other as partners.”
It was a frustrating day for Pakistan as a number of batsmen got in without going on to post a big score, with only captain Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq (58) getting past 50.
Pakistan coach Mohsin Khan revealed he gave Shafiq a piece of his mind as, after a century partnership with his captain, Shafiq was out just before the new ball was due, with two more wickets then going before the close. Khan said: “I’ll have a go at him because the team suffers. It’s the team first.
“Any player, whether it’s a senior player or a young player, if somebody’s playing for their country they should understand the responsibilities of playing for the team.
“I had a go at him – in a loving way, no doubt – but he’s been told very seriously this is not the way to get out especially when the team is struggling to get a better score.”
On batsmen failing to make big scores, he said: “I’ve been pretty worried about that. Some of the batsmen are getting very good 40s or 50s then getting out, like for example Asad Shafiq.”