Tanya Aldred is a freelance writer in Manchester
The first Monday morning of the summer holidays, the sky lumpen - an unscheduled autumn duvet pulled hastily from the cupboard above. The roads are quiet with relief, the ruddy trudgers of sandwich-laden picnic-hampers down to a steady trickle along the Great Stone Road.
In the separated pens of the Old Trafford nets in the hour before play, the Pakistan players practised. And practised. Azhar Ali, diligently forward, diligently back; the coaching staff, arms folded, nodding approvingly. In and out they alternated, like figures on a weather house, Mohammad Hafeez, Yasir Shah, lined up against the Lancashire academy bowlers sprightly-keen to show what they could do.
Behind them, staring at helmets and backsides, trying to identify whose belonged to whom, stood the Monday morning spectators. Not a great number - 6,533 in all - but proper cricket fans these: who else would give up a day's holiday in chilly late July to sit in bucket seats to watch the fourth day of a one-sided Test?
The nets are funny things, as close as people get to the players, an obscure mini zoo where fans stare while players pretend they're not there, fans lurk and players reach resolutely for their bats and hope to walk away to the safety of the dressing-room un-manhandled. A rite of passage nonetheless.
From the nets, it was just a short journey round the ground to B Stand - just to the left of the media centre, and most pertinently next door to the Pakistan dressing-room. If you couldn't quite see Misbah-ul-Haq reaching out for an idle scratch, you could imagine it: every player's jaunt up and down the steps that led to the pitch was wildly cheered.
B stand then, a multicultural slice of the kind of English society that cricket often turns up by accident: a good-natured mixture of cold and unpickled British people hunched over packets of cheese and onion in a mixture of cagouls, neat beards, hijabs, a couple of skull caps and a pair of stars-and-stripes sunglasses.
On a day slowly meandering along to its inevitable conclusion, the spectators entertained themselves with vuvuzelas and cracker blowers, chatter in Urdu and English, inflatable bananas and that sustaining culinary combination of a soggy 99 followed by a warming coffee.
In the prime seats just metres away from the Pakistan dressing-room steps, sat three sisters, Kiran, 21, a pharmacy student, Amina, 18, about to embark on a dentistry course, and Sophia, 15, hair covered in bright hijabs and decorated with Pakistani flag pins.
The three sisters had woken at seven o'clock and piled into a big van the family had hired for the day. Eight people crammed in, bags full of picnic, over the way from Bolton, Rihanna and Calvin Harris blaring on the radio. They are cricket nuts, all of them, a Pakistan flag hangs outside their house and posters adorn the walls. They'd brought along a roll of coloured paper with them, and intended to write some thoroughly inspirational posters.
"We watch Pakistan on TV, but this is the first time we've seen them live," Sophia said. "We love their passion. We paid extra for these seats because we knew they'd be just next to the dressing room."
She reaches for her sister's phone to show her selfies with the team just as England declare at 173 for 1: time for Pakistan to pull off a surprise win? "We're just hoping it doesn't rain."
Higher up in B stand were another group of family friends - two of them, Zohaib and Farukh, had driven down from Glasgow with their small sons. A five o'clock wake-up and then a four hour drive with no stops. "It wasn't great for the rest of them but I didn't want to be late," Zohaib said. Their friend Ali Usmani had come from Bolton too - via 16 years in Pakistan and 20 years in Holland. He and his wife had brought along their son.
"I tell him to support England, that you should support the country where you are brought up. He loves cricket, his favourites are Shane Warne and Shahid Afridi, but I tell him that education is the first priority."
It was a first visit to Old Trafford for the sisters, for the Glaswegians, for Ali too. "The first time you hesitate to come," he said, "then the way is open." Good news for Lancashire, if there is good news in a Test crowd of six-and-a-half thousand - there is plenty of potential support out there if they can find a way to capitalise on it.
As it was, Pakistan crept past their first innings, just. When Misbah played on for 35, the end was nigh, though a final flourish from a blazing Mohammad Amir gave his fans something to cheer about.
And from there it was a trudge back to the car, bags empty, legs tired. For England fans, a triumphant afternoon. For Pakistan fans, an ultimately disappointing but potentially uplifting day at the cricket. For the Pakistan team, it is back to the coach and the drawing board - the next two Tests suddenly looming very large.
England vs Pakistan
PAK tour of ENG