Cook returned to form in his world record-equalling 153rd consecutive Test with a battling 70 but received precious little lasting support as Mohammad Abbas (four for 23) and Hasan Ali (four for 51) hustled the hosts out for 184.
After Joe Root chose to bat at the start of this two-match NatWest Series, England collectively failed to handle awkward conditions and lost their last five wickets for 16 runs in under five overs.
There was still time under largely unshifting cloud cover and eventually floodlights for Pakistan to reply with 50 for one at stumps.
Root’s percentage decision at the toss had to factor the risk of early movement with obvious reward if England could avoid mishap.
Mark Stoneman did not, undone by the skill of Abbas as a faulty poke forward betrayed his uncertain form and saw him bowled off-stump.
Root, up to number three again in England’s reshuffled order, was given little leeway by Abbas especially in an impressive new-ball spell of 6-4-8-1.
It was to be Hasan who took advantage, though, swinging one ever wider but at an inviting half-volley length which Root – on four after 23 balls – could not resist and edged to Sarfraz Ahmed. Dawid Malan was also soon caught-behind off Hasan, who ran one across him up the slope, and a third top-order batsman was gone for single figures.
Cook dug in, however, and his driving, as it had been in his double-century in Melbourne at Christmas, was notably assured.
His 96-ball 50 arrived with a thick edge off Mohammad Amir to a vacant third-man for his tenth four, but just when it seemed he and Jonny Bairstow were gaining a marginal advantage in a stand of 57, the latter was bowled driving at Faheem Ashraf.
Cook could not quite make it to tea either, because Amir produced a good delivery which snaked up the slope to beat his back-foot defence and hit off-stump.
If the charge at that stage was that no-one other than the veteran opener had managed to graft out longevity, after tea England’s woes got worse.
They lost Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler for no addition in the space of three balls, and then debutant Dom Bess and Stuart Broad repeated the dose – all, like Mark Wood, to the bowling of Abbas or Hasan.
It was a slightly improbable lbw review which kickstarted England’s terminal collapse, DRS dispatching Stokes when it demonstrated Abbas had got one to pitch on leg-stump on its way towards middle.
Buttler went after a drive on the up and was superbly caught high at second slip by Asad Shafiq, who was also safe in the same position soon afterwards as Bess departed at the other end.
Broad was pinned lbw, and Wood was last out mis-pulling to mid-on, to leave England’s bowlers 29 scheduled overs in which to return fire.
Only 23 were possible, but it was predictably a struggle for the tourists’ batsmen as well and too much for Imam ul-Haq who, in similar circumstances to Stokes, went lbw on DRS to Broad.
England should have had a second wicket too, just before the close, but Stokes dived across second slip from third and failed to hold Haris Sohail’s edge off Wood.