It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the alpha and the omega of England's Test rebirth. Between October 2000 and December 2005, Pakistan played host to two contrasting but compelling Test tours, and between Nasser Hussain's bloody-minded triumph in the Karachi dusk and the blitzing of Michael Vaughan's Ashes-winners five years later, it was as if an entire English dynasty had risen and fallen on their watch.
England has had other teams and other triumphs in the intervening decades - most particularly Andrew Strauss's bloodless wonders, whose victory in Australia in 2010-11 was arguably their most convincing display in more than half a century. But for sheer narrative arc, nothing compares to England's years of transformative optimism at the dawn of the new millennium, as a team that had spent two decades in the doldrums was dragged through various stages of competence and excellence to claim the right to be considered (albeit for little more than eight weeks in the autumn of 2005) the best Test team in the world.
In some respects, it is a stretch to consider those two tours as a single entity. After all, just two of the 11 men who featured in all three Tests in 2000 would still be in the team come 2005, and for the vast majority of Hussain's line-up - Graeme Hick and Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough - that Pakistan tour was an end more than a beginning; a chance (reprised three months later in Sri Lanka) to seize some belated glory after a decade in which they'd been buffeted by the game's prevailing winds.
And it was because of that buffeting that even the tour's most integral influence, Graham Thorpe, was not destined to stay the course. Despite saving the best years of his career for last, Thorpe would be jettisoned on the eve of the 2005 Ashes, not because he was no longer worth his place - he averaged 62 in his final year in the team - but as a precaution against the pessimism that his upbringing had engrained on him.
And yet, when you zoom out and look at the wider history of England in Pakistan, the two campaigns are inescapably twinned due to their isolation from any broader context. Either side of those visits, there is wilderness - 13 years on one side, joining the dots back to Mike Gatting's fractious tour of 1987-88, on which so many of the chaotic parameters of the coming decade would be set, and 17 on the other, encompassing an era of such political tumult for Pakistan that one wondered at times if international cricket could ever return … let alone in what format, given how much the sport's landscape has altered since the onset of the T20 revolution.
That adds up to a span of some 35 years - covered off by just six Test matches, three of them drawn and only one of them close in the strictest scoreboard sense. And yet, those two tours seem memorable in a way that more frequently staged rivalries cannot be. Maybe the scarcity concentrates the mind, or perhaps it's all a trick of the oddly distinctive light that dominates Pakistan's winter months, a beguilingly mellow whitewash that overlays the action and exacerbates the heat and dust of these foreign fields.
Either way, (and assuming they recover from their sickness bug), when Ben Stokes' England take the field at Rawalpindi this week, it won't just be James Anderson feeling the thrill of a brand-new challenge, a fortnight shy of his 20-year anniversary as an England cricketer, and 17 years to the month since he led England back to the same pavilion with match-winning figures of 4 for 48 in their most recent visit to the ground.
And in spite of the march of time since that contest, the Pindi stadium itself will barely have evolved since England first played Pakistan there on the 2000 tour, when a riot broke out on the concourse behind the media centre due to the mis-selling of tickets, and Stewart and Trescothick were inadvertently tear-gassed during their opening stand. (The dressing-room fridge, at the very least, might have had an upgrade in the interim, after Hussain demolished the original in a fit of pique after a ropey lbw, and received a hefty bill for fixtures and fittings.)
Crowd unrest at Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium after the mis-selling of tickets for the third ODI in 2000•Andrew Miller
So many aspects of those two tours straddled a fast-evolving era - the creep of overdue professionalism from England on the one hand, with the advent of central contracts and the appointment of the taciturn taskmaster Duncan Fletcher instilling a collective purpose that had been lacking from previous campaigns. But also the unavoidable sense that Pakistan was feeling the heat of a changing geo-political climate.
On the 2000 trip, a collective tour highlight was a trip into the legendary Khyber Pass, where the ghosts of imperial history loomed down from the vertiginous cliff-faces and where unapologetic convoys of contraband wound their way down to the smugglers' bazaars of Landi Kotal. Five years later, however, such tribal areas were strictly off-limits - and even Karachi, the scene of England's finest hour in the country, was deemed safe only for a 48-hour flying visit, following a suicide bomb outside New Zealand's team hotel in 2002, and a subsequent attack on a nearby restaurant in the weeks before England's arrival. By degrees, that sense of cricket's immunity to direct atrocity was being eroded. From the moment of the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009, it was gone for a generation.
On the field too, Pakistan were feeling the winds of change. Unlike England, they'd had no great desire to see the end of the 1990s - a decade of unprecedented success that had begun with their World Cup triumph in 1992 and had featured one of the most potent Test teams ever assembled. But Javed Miandad and Salim Malik were already long gone, and with Saeed Anwar nearing his own exit, the series marked the beginning of the end too for the great Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. They appeared in tag-team fashion, neither man featuring in the same Test as the other, as animosity swirled in the aftermath of the publication of Justice Qayyum's long-awaited report into match-fixing.
And if that document had allowed England to arrive in the country with a familiar sense of moral superiority, exacerbated by the chairman Lord MacLaurin's insistence that any player suspected of corruption should be barred from playing in the series, then the naming of Stewart in a subsequent Indian CBI report forced an urgent and embarrassing backtrack. Stewart was cleared of any wrongdoing, after the original story had broken midway through England's first-class warm-up in Rawalpindi, deflecting the limelight from a nine-wicket match haul for the then-unsung Matthew Hoggard, and ruining the travelling media's plans for a screening of "Carry On Up The Khyber" at the British Club in Islamabad.
By 2005, Pakistan's generational shift was complete. Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf (or Yousuf Youhana, as he had been known on the previous tour) were ensconced as the middle-order pillars, while Shoaib Akhtar - never the type of character to reside in anyone's shadow - had full licence to let rip with a brace of matchwinning spells, at Multan and Lahore, that rank among the most ferocious of his full-throttle career.
Overseeing this rebooted team, however, was the gentle generalissimo, Inzamam-ul-Haq - at the absolute peak of his own languidly expressed powers. Two snapshots from that trip sum up the understatement that Inzy brought to his role: the wicker chair beside the nets in Rawalpindi, in which he was content to loll while leaving the greater exertions to his younger team-mates, and the mute gesture from their head coach, Bob Woolmer, on the eve of the Multan Test. When asked who he believed would be the difference between the teams, he merely shrugged and thumbed a gesture towards the captain sitting beside him.
Inzamam lifts the trophy•AFP
It turned out that Woolmer wasn't far wrong. Though it was Shoaib and Danish Kaneria who ultimately unpicked England's resolve, Inzamam's indomitability told an enduring tale about the pace of life in Pakistan - one that Stokes' England may yet be required to heed this time around, even as they resolve to take their Bazball ethos on tour. In his five innings in 2005, Inzy was not once dismissed for less than 53, including twin hundreds in Faisalabad in which a controversial run-out from Steve Harmison proved the only means to extract him.
His were the bollards to thwart England's boy racers, as a team built in Vaughan's attacking image, and with Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen as its dominant personalities, found that taking the game to Pakistan could only take you so far. The 125 runs that he produced in Multan, in tandem with Salman Butt's match haul of 196, proved sufficient to push England's eventual victory target of 198 just out of reach.
Who can say quite how damaging that loss would prove to be after the highs of England's Ashes summer? The Multan match was notable for a huge amount of goodwill towards the tourists, with several of the fans - bussed in by the PCB to bulk out the stadium numbers - supporting England with "full zeal and zest", as one spectator told The Times. And yet, few venues could have seemed further from home in times of duress, especially having felt at the centre of national attention for the previous four months.
For Trescothick in particular, the match would have profound ramifications. Not only did his brilliant 193 come in a futile cause but, midway through the match - for which he was standing in as captain after Vaughan had suffered a recurrence of the knee injury that would curtail his own career - Trescothick's father-in-law fell from a ladder and suffered serious head injuries. His decision to stay with the tour, rather than put his family first, would haunt him on subsequent trips, and he never played for England again after the end of Pakistan's return visit in 2006.
Instead, as a dispirited England played out the last rites of the series in a thumping innings loss in Lahore, there was already the sense of a team in advanced state of transition. The only men to show any fight as Pakistan shredded their ambitions of a seventh consecutive series win were Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, the two men with the most to prove after their bit-part roles in the Ashes, and two of the key characters in the long, slow but ultimately bountiful rebuild that awaited.