"We're looking to make the most of the overhead conditions, even though we would have batted first too," said England captain Joe Root.
"Ben is still not 100 percent fit to bowl and his batting is so valuable to us, and there's so much cricket left to play this summer, we didn't want to take the risk."
England have lost the first match in each of their last five Test series and Root said: "We want to get ahead of the game early and drive it from there."
Pakistan opted for a balance of three seamers and two spinners in their attack with leg-break bowlers Shadab Khan and Yasir Shah both included in a match that marks their first Test since February when a series against Bangladesh was cut short by Covid-19.
A talented Pakistan pace line-up featured the accurate Mohammad Abbas, teenage rising star Naseem Shah and left-armer Shaheen Afridi.
This is the first of a three-match series.
Pakistan have not lost a Test series against England since 2010, and have drawn their last two in England.
Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Joe Root (captain), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wicketkeeper), Chris Woakes, Dom Bess, Jofra Archer, Stuart Broad, James Anderson
Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali (captain), Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper), Yasir Shah, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah
Umpires: Richard Kettleborough (ENG), Richard Illingworth (ENG)
TV umpire: Michael Gough (ENG)
Match referee: Chris Broad (ENG)