Paul Edwards at Lord's on a dramatic day of Test cricket
Mohammad Amir kisses the Lord's turf after claiming his fifth wicket (PA Images)
Let us take our cue from Mr Gradgrind and begin with a fact: Mohammed Amir is 18 years and 136 days old. This is significant because in recent years talented Pakistani cricketers have stepped onto the international stage when improbably young and then left it after only a few unforgettable performances. We must hope that this fate does not befall Amir, for the all-rounder has the talent to delight audiences in every theatre where the game's dramas are shown.
Now another fact: on Friday afternoon the left-arm fast bowler became the youngest man in Test history to take 50 wickets when he had Matt Prior caught behind by Kamran Akmal. Last December, aged 17 years and 257 days, he was the second youngest to take five wickets in a Test innings when he dismissed Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Marcus North and Brad Haddin at a cost of 79 runs at Melbourne. It is not a bad quintet. What is also interesting, though, is that Wasim Akram is the sixth youngest to achieve that feat and Waqar Younis, the 11th. Amir is already associating with his country's truly great.
And as with Wasim and Waqar, it's not just what Amir does, it's the way that he does it. The first twenty minutes of a day's Test cricket are like the beginning of a symphony: themes are introduced and a mood is suggested. The first five overs of Friday's play, however, were more akin to Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring, full of jagged shock and almost frightening drama. Amir took four wickets in eight balls for no runs to leave England on 43 for five.
Of all Andrew Strauss's batsmen, only Kevin Pietersen really collaborated in his own departure, and this dismissal, too, had its dramatic dimension, as a formerly cocksure champion was brutally executed by a new warrior. How many other team games can also be seen as a sequence of gladiatorial conflicts, the skills needed to prevail being both subtle and savage?
However, by close of play on the second day of this match, Amir's feats may have faded from the memory of some spectators. Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad's unbroken eighth-wicket partnership of 244 has transformed the contest, giving England a formidable first innings total instead of a pathetically inadequate one. A day which had begun with an 18-year-old swinging the ball at 90 mph in a heavy atmosphere ended with Pakistan's spinners desperately trying to break a stand which had itself broken their spirit. Four wickets in eight balls? The idea seemed as bizarre as the Lord's floodlights, which came on at 2.30 p.m. and remained on, even when the evening sun shone brightly.
That, though, is the imperishable glory of the five-day game. Trott crafted one of the best hundreds of the summer and Broad coupled his undoubted talent to the flinty temperament he will need if he is to prevail in Australia this winter. As I watched the game change to a degree no one, not even the old sweats in the press box, could have foreseen, I thought of a group of children I saw being taken to their seats by an adult - a coach? a teacher? - this morning. I hoped they'd watched the cricket closely and understood what Test matches offer people who open themselves to its unrivalled complexities. Stuart Broad, as he himself pointed out this evening, is the only Broad on the honours board at Lord's; Jonathan Trott will surely bat at No3 in Brisbane; Mohammed Amir has it in him to become a great Test cricketer. As the old Hampshire wicketkeeper Leo Harrison always liked to say: "Ain't half a bloody game."