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England’s pace attack takes over on the opening day of the second Test with Pakistan

Eight balls were enough. A week after he got so fed up with life that he had to quash retirement rumors, James Anderson spun to the bone as if it had all been a lot of fuss about nothing.

The ball swung into left-handed Shan Masood, hitting him so definitively on the front cushion that it was almost on its way before referee Gough confirmed his fate.

One day when Pakistan limped to 126 for five amidst downpours on the south coast, the return of Anderson’s mojo – he later added Azhar Ali’s wicket, his 592nd in Tests – was the best news Joe Root could have wished for. If England can make short work of Pakistan’s lower ranking, they will be a decent total in the first innings to take control of the series.

James Anderson celebrates Shan Masood's wicket early on the first day

James Anderson celebrates Shan Masood’s wicket early on the first day

The England bowler was thrilled after struggling with the ball in the first Test in Manchester

The England bowler was thrilled after struggling with the ball in the first Test in Manchester

The England bowler was thrilled after struggling with the ball in the first Test in Manchester

Anderson high-fives wicket-keeper Jos Buttler after Pakistani Azhar Ali's wicket

Anderson high-fives wicket-keeper Jos Buttler after Pakistani Azhar Ali's wicket

Anderson high-fives wicket-keeper Jos Buttler after Pakistani Azhar Ali’s wicket

However, that is yet to come. At this point, they were just grateful that Anderson’s hunt for 600 wickets and more – and who can honestly say when it will end? – was back on track. In reality, it probably always was. Based on this evidence, he remains 38 going 28.

It helped that Azhar had chosen to hit, as he did last week in Manchester, when Pakistan was on track for victory for most of the game. But the morning sun soon gave way to dark gray skies and the tightness of nearby storms. In other words, the kind of conditions Anderson built his fame on.

Not everything went like England. Dom Sibley and Rory Burns each dropped Abid Ali in the slips, on one and 21, bringing the Pakistani opener to 60 – gold dust in the darkness. And Stuart Broad didn’t get a wicket when only Root called for a flyout against Azhar. Snicko suggested a tremor. For a time England also faltered.

But the catches started to hold – Sibley and Burns each made reconciliation – as the Pakistani batsmen fell into a series of prods and pokes, and 78 for one turned 120 for five before closing definitively shortly before 5pm again.

Rory Burns (left) was guilty of a drop in the slip when England missed more opportunities

Rory Burns (left) was guilty of a drop in the slip when England missed more opportunities

Rory Burns (left) was guilty of a drop in the slip when England missed more opportunities

Dom Sibley and Rory Burns collided when they tried to catch an Abid Ali nick in the slip cordon

Dom Sibley and Rory Burns collided when they tried to catch an Abid Ali nick in the slip cordon

Dom Sibley and Rory Burns collided when they tried to catch an Abid Ali nick in the slip cordon

Burns made amends by taking the catch to fire Pakistani batsman Abid Ali for 60

Burns made amends by taking the catch to fire Pakistani batsman Abid Ali for 60

Burns made amends by taking the catch to fire Pakistani batsman Abid Ali for 60

Just a few days ago, the vicissitudes of cricket threatened to get close to England’s greatest wicket-taker of all time. He’d beaten an angry figure at Emirates Old Trafford, where match scores of one to 97 were his worst in a home test in four years.

The healing process began three days before this match, when he admitted that he had let his emotions take over. He said he had taken the irritation out of his system. England felt a man with a point to prove and immediately wanted him back in the saddle. The decision turned out to be perfect.

After an exploratory first-over including a set of four leg-byes, Anderson quickly found his groove against one of his favorite opponents.

It is true that Masood should have been Pakistan’s match winner in the first Test after his first innings 156, but this was the seventh time he fell into the trap of his nemesis and the fourth time for a single.

Dark skies loom over the Ageas Bowl during a rain delay during the afternoon session

Dark skies loom over the Ageas Bowl during a rain delay during the afternoon session

Dark skies loom over the Ageas Bowl during a rain delay during the afternoon session

Ground crews put on face masks as they lifted up the excess water after a downpour

Ground crews put on face masks as they lifted up the excess water after a downpour

Ground crews put on face masks as they lifted up the excess water after a downpour

Pakistan would have been six to two if Sibley Abid hadn’t spilled out next time, from Broad. The ball was headed for Burns on the second slip, but experts have feared all summer that England’s cordon is too compressed, and Sibley reached over him from third place and missed the opportunity.

The third slip is normally Ben Stokes’ territory, of course, but he’s absent from family matters – and at least missed a similar opportunity in Manchester. When Burns put Abid in 14th place, this time alongside Chris Woakes, it looked like England’s recent incompetence in the cordon was finally catching up with them.

Not long after lunch, however, Anderson coaxed Azhar into a lame blob outside the stump, and this time Burns held on to his right. Thunder rolled into the distance, as if it were a tribute – but not for Azhar, who doesn’t seem to get any closer to cracking conditions on his fourth test tour of England than he did in his first.

Anderson was now clocking 140 mph, and Pakistan unraveled. Sam Curran, back after missing the three Manchester Tests, found that bounce and movement drove Abid into Burns’s midriff. When Broad Asad caught Shafiq for five by a relieved Sibley, it was 117 for four – and England’s old firm had exactly 1,200 Test wickets in between them.

Pakistani Abid Ali recoils from pain after giving birth to England's Chris Woakes

Pakistani Abid Ali recoils from pain after giving birth to England's Chris Woakes

Pakistani Abid Ali recoils from pain after giving birth to England’s Chris Woakes

In his first Test appearance since November 2009, 34-year-old left-handed Fawad Alam had a moment to show an extraordinary stance, which started with an open-chested look across the field, before turning left just before delivery. . With the help of DRS, Woakes pinned him a leg for a fourth ball duck.

The collapse confirmed Root and Chris Silverwood’s decision to go in with their four classic English seamers and pass the fire and brimstone of Jofra Archer and Mark Wood.

During their previous visit to the Ageas Bowl, for the first of the biosecure Tests against the West Indies, both Archer and Wood had played. But an uncertain prediction convinced captain and coach to go with swing and seam, although an even more daring move could have been to omit off-spinner Dom Bess, who didn’t bow any of the 45 possible overs on Thursday.

Does not matter. If Anderson continues to lead the attack like he did here, everything else will be just details.

Azhar Ali sees the ball roll away after Pakistan won the toss and chose to hit on Thursday

Azhar Ali sees the ball roll away after Pakistan won the toss and chose to hit on Thursday

Azhar Ali sees the ball roll away after Pakistan won the toss and chose to hit on Thursday

Sam Curran came back to England to replace Jofra Archer for the Ageas Bowl game

Sam Curran came back to England to replace Jofra Archer for the Ageas Bowl game

Sam Curran came back to England to replace Jofra Archer for the Ageas Bowl game

Azhar Ali eats a banana for refreshment as the second of three tests got underway

Azhar Ali eats a banana for refreshment as the second of three tests got underway

Azhar Ali eats a banana for refreshment as the second of three tests got underway

England bowler Stuart Broad takes out his inhaler during the opening session of the second Test

England bowler Stuart Broad takes out his inhaler during the opening session of the second Test

England bowler Stuart Broad takes out his inhaler during the opening session of the second Test

The Test is played without spectators in the Ageas Bowl amid a bio-safe bubble

The Test is played without spectators in the Ageas Bowl amid a bio-safe bubble

The Test is played without spectators in the Ageas Bowl amid a bio-safe bubble

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