Seventeen long years ago, in the cold of a misty December night, England's cricketers made their way off the field at Rawalpindi after a consolation victory in the fifth and final ODI. It was the final act of a tour in which little had gone right for England in either red- or white-ball format, not least for their all-conquering 2005 Ashes team, which had collapsed to a 2-0 defeat earlier in the month, to mark the beginning of the end of Michael Vaughan's reign.
Even amid the heightened post-9/11 security that that trip had entailed, however, few could have imagined that England's next visit would be put in abeyance for the best part of two decades. The sides have met on neutral soil in the UAE for three tours in the intervening years, most recently in 2015, but for many years - particularly after the events outside the Gaddafi Stadium in March 2009 - a return to actual cricket on Pakistani soil seemed inconceivable.
Slowly but surely, however, the groundwork has been laid - first through the path-finding efforts of the Pakistan Super League, which was founded in exile in the UAE in 2016 before holding its knockouts and final on home soil the following year: the start of an inexorable process of myth-busting, not least for the numerous England white-ball players in this current squad who have long since been persuaded of the country's warmth and hospitality.
In fact, it was telling - even before a ball had been bowled in this series - quite how cordial the relations are between the England and Pakistan players on show. Footage shared by the PCB on Monday showed the likes of Alex Hales and Shan Masood bantering about the English summer just gone, while Mohammad Haris - a probable debutant behind the stumps - coyly introduced himself to Jos Buttler as the two squads mingled freely.
Previous tours might have been tinged by suspicion at best and open hostility at worst, thanks to the legacy of mistrust that had existed between the two teams down the years, from rows about umpiring and ball-tampering in the 1980s and 1990s, through the spot-fixing crisis of 2010 and beyond.
But things are different now, partly because of the crossover between dressing-rooms - not simply the Englishmen in the PSL, but also the huge influx of Pakistanis into county cricket - but also due to the sheer ubiquity of England vs Pakistan contests in recent times. Remarkably, the summer just gone was the first since 2015 in which a Pakistan team had not played a single international fixture on English soil - a fact which serves only to deepen the sense in which this current visit is overdue - but that familiarity has undoubtedly deadened the contempt.
Moreover, England arrive in Pakistan with a debt of gratitude to pay, not to mention an apology hanging in the air. Pakistan's own willingness to travel to England in the Covid-stricken summer of 2020, and to tolerate the huge impositions of that bio-secure summer, effectively kept the ECB solvent during an unprecedented crisis for the sport, and so when last year's goodwill return visit was cancelled with no plausible excuse, the outrage was palpable and justified.
Seven T20Is is this year's upshot - the most protracted bilateral T20I series ever arranged - but with a T20 World Cup looming in Australia next month, it comes at an opportune juncture in the development of two teams who were beaten semi-finalists in last year's event in the UAE.
The hosts may still be smarting from their defeat in the recent Asia Cup final against Sri Lanka, but with nine wins in their previous 11 games until the final stages of that competition, Pakistan remain one of the pre-eminent teams in the format. Even without the injured Shaheen Shah Afridi, whose rehab from a knee injury has been an ongoing saga, they possess a formidable and multi-faceted attack in which Naseem Shah is fast emerging as a star in his own right.
As for England, this tour might come to be seen, for better or for worse, as the true start of the Jos Buttler-Matthew Mott era. Not that Buttler is likely to be involved on the field for a while yet, as he continues to manage the calf injury that ended his Hundred campaign, but given the abrupt handover this summer, with Eoin Morgan deciding enough was enough midway through their tour of the Netherlands, this extended trip is a first opportunity for the new management to put some distance between the two regimes - no easy feat, given how fondly the Morgan era will be recalled.
Central to that, you suspect, is the recall of Hales - the designated cautionary tale of the Morgan era, a man whose banishment for crimes against team etiquette served to reinforce exactly where the boundaries of that etiquette lay. His return drives a coach and horses through any remaining cosiness that England's class of 2019 might have been tempted to retain as they look to a new beginning. And the fact that he'll be fronting up where Jason Roy, arguably the poster-boy of the Morgan ethos, once resided, will be lost on no one either.
Fundamentally, though, such internal considerations will be of secondary importance at the National Stadium on Tuesday night, when the pageantry of England's return to Pakistan will be front and centre of everyone's attentions. About 2000 remaining tickets were selling rapidly as of Monday morning, which means that sell-outs are anticipated for all seven matches.
Pakistan LLWWW (last five completed T20Is, most recent first) England LLWWL
In the spotlight
With a top score of 6 in four previous ODIs against West Indies and Netherlands this year, Haris might have been forgiven for thinking he'd blown his chance, especially with the World Cup looming large. But the selectors haven't lost faith in the attributes that made him one of the breakout stars of PSL 2022, and with Mohammad Rizwan sitting out, he is likely to get his shot near the top of the order. At the age of 20, he racked up 166 runs in five innings at 33.20 and strike-rate of nearly 187 for Peshawar Zalmi, including a match-winning 49 off 27 balls on debut against Karachi Kings. He also performed well in the 50-over Pakistan Cup last year, scoring 289 runs in eight innings at an average of 41.28 and strike rate of over 100, during Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's run to the title.
It may have taken an extraordinary toppling of dominos, beginning with Morgan's retirement and culminating in Jonny Bairstow's slip on that Harrogate golf course, but the upshot is that Hales is back, at the age of 33, for an opportunity he himself believed would never come again. In a strictly sporting sense, this chance is entirely on merit. Since his banishment on the eve of the 2019 World Cup, Hales has become one of the pre-eminent T20 batters in the world, a fixture at franchise tournaments around the world - not least the PSL and the BBL, two competitions that make his recall for this World Cup winter all the more apposite. But with Hales, of course, the cricket has never really been the issue - and as Mott conceded earlier this week, the dynamic with his "former friend" Ben Stokes is unlikely to develop much warmth in the interim. And yet, for a post-Morgan team that, during a trophy-less home summer, was beginning to drift without an identity, the optics of Hales' recall may have far more long-term implications than his own contributions. It's a sign from Mott and Jos Buttler that they are willing to break down a champion side in order to build it back up again.
Pitch and conditions
The pitch at the National Stadium looks very hard, although the England players who have featured here in the PSL say it is likely to skid through. The weather is set to be hot and humid, and the crowd is set to be packed.
Masood is set to make his T20I debut in place of the injured Fakhar Zaman, having relaunched his credentials across formats in a stellar season for Derbyshire, while Rizwan is expected to be rested after his exertions at the Asia Cup. Haris is the stand-in keeper, and could slot in at No.3 to allow the rest of the line-up to retain their usual batting positions.
Pakistan (probable): 1 Babar Azam (capt), 2 Shan Masood, 3 Mohammad Haris (wk), 4 Iftikhar Ahmed, 5 Khushdil Shah, 6 Shadab Khan, 7 Asif Ali, 8 Mohammad Nawaz, 9 Naseem Shah, 10 Haris Rauf, 11 Mohammad Hasnain
Buttler, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood won't come into contention until the Lahore leg of the tour as they continue their respective returns from injury. Reece Topley will miss the start of the series with an ankle niggle. Phil Salt is set to keep in international cricket for the first time, and will open alongside the recalled Hales. England's batting order is likely to be flexible depending on favourable match-ups.
England: (possible) 1 Alex Hales, 2 Phil Salt (wk), 3 Dawid Malan, 4 Harry Brook, 5 Moeen Ali (capt), 6 Will Jacks, 7 Sam Curran, 8 David Willey, 9 Adil Rashid, 10 Olly Stone, 11 Richard Gleeson
Stats and trivia
Pakistan have won six of their previous 20 completed T20Is against England, with 13 losses and a solitary tie in Sharjah in 2015 (in which England won the Super Over).
The two teams last met in the summer of 2021, when England came from behind to win the three-match series 2-1, after Shaheen and Babar Azam had combined to win the series opener at Trent Bridge.
Only one active international cricketer took part in England's most recent match in Pakistan in December 2005 - James Anderson, who hasn't played white-ball cricket since 2015, but was the matchwinner on that occasion with 4 for 48. Shoaib Malik - who last featured for Pakistan in November 2021 - also played in that match.
England played (and lost) a solitary ODI in Karachi on their 2005 tour - and, amid presidential levels of security, were in and out of the city within 24 hours. This is their first protracted return to the city since the 2000-01 tour, when Nasser Hussain's men famously sealed the Test series in near darkness.
The teams will observe a minute's silence before the first T20I, in memory of Queen Elizabeth II and victims of the floods in Pakistan.
"Naseem, in some ways, reminds me of myself when I was a younger cricketer. He's free-spirited, but - and I wasn't - he's quite intelligent. He's been a breeze to work with. You've all seen his natural ability and his skill with the new ball, especially, is as good as it gets in the world." Shaun Tait, Pakistan's bowling coach, talks up Naseem Shah's credentials.
"The only person that's not here is Ben Stokes from the guys who could be. We still have a very good side. I don't see it at all as a second-string team. It's not through selection, it's more through unfortunate injuries, but it gives opportunities for new players to come in." Moeen Ali resists the suggestion that England are fielding a weakened side.