Pak v Eng, 1st Test, Abu Dhabi, 5th day October 17, 2015

Rashid breaches the fortress door

Expectations were low for England coming into the first Test, but in a dramatic conclusion they only had victory snatched away by fading light after a legspinner sparked chaos

England's year of doing the unexpected has gained another chapter. In 2012, they came as the No.1 Test team and should have won in Abu Dhabi but collapsed for 72 chasing 145. This time they arrived, emboldened by Ashes victory but very much Asian novices, and were only denied one of the most extraordinary Test victories by the fading Arabian sun.

That Pakistan, after scoring 523 for 8 and being three-down in the third innings at tea on the final day, had to resort to gamesmanship - plenty of field changes and lengthy chats between bowler and captain - is not a criticism of Misbah-ul-Haq, any team would have done the same, but it highlights the frenzy of what took place.

It was down to the umpires to keep the game going, which they were reasonably proactive at doing. They now have the scope to award a five-run penalty for time-wasting, but did not feel the need to do so. Still, the inevitable came at 5.46pm when the players were taken off with England 25 runs short. In these parts, that is very quickly followed by darkness. The official sunset was at 5.53pm and by the time Alastair Cook and Misbah were reflecting on events the sky was pitch black.

This was Karachi 2000 revisited, but with new light regulations - it is no longer offered to the batsmen - and no Steve Bucknor. For Moin Khan's chatter from behind the stumps, read Sarfraz Ahmed. For the darting offspin of Saqlain Mushtaq read Shoaib Malik; both he and Zulfiqar Babar deserve credit for how they performed under pressure. England needed far fewer than 176 this time, but had far less time as well. Joe Root, a right-handed version of the scampering, scurrying Graham Thorpe, did his best but he could not beat the arrival of dusk.

For 14 sessions this Test had been torpor. The cries that the finish justifies what had gone before came as quickly as the shadows lengthened. It was still not a good Test pitch, although it could now escape a poor rating. But let's leave that to the officials. Instead, marvel at the incredulity that the game reached the conclusion it did.

Adil Rashid brandishes the ball to mark his five-wicket haul on debut © Getty Images

Before play began, Russel Arnold, the former Sri Lanka batsman who was in Galle covering the West Indies Test - which started after this one and finished before it - made mention of a match on that ground in 2014 when Pakistan were again bowled out on the final day. Sri Lanka in reply rattled off an identical target of 99 (although they had 16.4 overs in which to do so). It was a match Misbah, himself, referenced at the press conference. As ever, there were mentions of Adelaide 2006-07 as well. When play began it was "you never know" territory, but without any belief it would happen. It was a phrase that was oft repeated by the captains afterwards.

And it all stemmed from a feat that has not been seen for more than 50 years, since before man walked on the moon and Concorde made its maiden flight: a five-wicket haul by an English legspinner. No longer does that record belong to Tommy Greenhough in 1959; take a bow Adil Rashid of 2015.

After a record-breaking first-innings drought and an overall wait of 264 balls, he had a Test average when Younis Khan lofted lazily into the covers. "A weight was lifted off his shoulders," Cook said. And it was far more than a mere consolation.

The confidence surged through his fingers. The ball was fizzing, Misbah was beaten by a beauty, before a sharp leg-break found the edge of Asad Shafiq's bat. Suddenly, the jitters which had emerged in the Pakistan camp during James Anderson's wonderful opening spell, but were settled by the stand of 66 between Misbah and Younis, were reawakened.

After Moeen Ali spun one through Misbah's aberration of a shot (five more overs of his obduracy and the game was done) then had Wahab Riaz taken at short leg, Rashid hurried through the lower order with three edges being taken by James Anderson at slip. The full story about why Rashid did not play in Barbados in April and made himself unavailable for Lord's against Australia may not emerge for a while yet, but if there was an unspoken need for a display of guts and character in adversity, this was it.

Suddenly, an English spin-bowling pair had seven wickets; memories of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar against India in 2012-13. They, however, were an established pair, not a previously uncapped leggie and batsman-turned-offspinner. Here, something very significant had unfolded in what felt like the blink of an eye.

Joe Root took England within 25 runs of victory in Abu Dhabi © Getty Images

This had been billed as a Test match for a legspinner. Yasir Shah's injury the day before the game changed the dynamic significantly, brought the teams closer together, and seemed to affect Pakistan - or more precisely Misbah - more than it should have done. A vital player of course, but injuries happen. At the end of the match he was still directing questions to the selectors about suitable reserves not being available to his squad.

Yasir is set to return for Dubai, as is Azhar Ali. Pakistan will be stronger and a gulf could yet reappear between the teams. But that is now not a given. England, far from being overwhelmed, were the only team who could win by the fifth day. Even if the chaotic conclusion had not developed, that would have been progress enough.

Old wounds have not been exposed. Instead, new depths of resolve have been found, especially among the fast bowlers, while Cook produced an innings that, regardless of the pitch, defied conditions. Then, to cap it all, there was Rashid's success.

This was only the second time since 2000 in Lahore - when Thorpe scored a century including a single boundary, an innings of similar resilience, if not quite the grandeur of Cook's - that England have not started a series in Asia (against Sri Lanka, India or Pakistan) with a defeat. The other being India in 2006*. The conclusion to the 2000 series in Karachi saw England end Pakistan's unbeaten record of 34 matches at the ground. They still remain unbeaten in Abu Dhabi from eight matches - it has become a mini new-age fortress - but it was by the skin of their teeth.

When Australia and New Zealand, teams with similar style and resources as England, visited last year they were beaten by 356 and 248 runs respectively, both sides unable to cope with Pakistan's vast first-innings totals. While this pitch, until the very end, offered far less than those games, England offered far more. The fortress was not quite toppled, but it was breached. And it was an English legspinner that forced down the door.

4.00pm, October 18, 2015: *The story was corrected to reflect 2006 series result

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo