England left with uphill battle to save Pakistan series

Tourists lose Moeen Ali and Ian Bell as they set about improbable chase of 284 in Sharjah

151 from Mohammad Hafeez helped Pakistan set England a target of 284 to win the third Test match in Sharjah and level the series at 1-1. Photograph: Reuters

151 from Mohammad Hafeez helped Pakistan set England a target of 284 to win the third Test match in Sharjah and level the series at 1-1. Photograph: Reuters

 

England will enter the final day of the third Test with little hope now of winning the match and squaring the series. Asked to make 284 to win in a minimum of 112 overs, Pakistan having been bowled out after tea for 355, they got off to a necessarily rapid start against the new ball pace before the spinners got into their stride, Moeen Ali suffering a nasty blow to the back of the head in the process, ducking into a short ball from Wahab Riaz that did not bounce quite as high as perhaps the batsman anticipated.

As the scores in the game thus far had gradually increased, from 234 to 306 and now 355, the nature of the mathematical progression would suggest a pitch getting easier and a simple task. Fifth day pitches and circumstance pay little mind to such calculations though, with historical precedence telling England that only three times, once in Australia in 1895, again there in 1928 and finally in New Zealand in 1997 have they chased successfully their current target or more. The history does not bode nearly as well as the maths, despite Henry Ford’s assertion about the former.

To bat as confidently as they did at the start, as sun began to sink, at least showed some positive intent at least to give the innings some impetus, particularly after Moeen took such a nasty blow. Wahab is quick at times and skiddy and Moeen, as is generally the way these days simply turned his head away rather than try and keep his eyes on the ball. The blow felled him and there was general concern from the Pakistan players who remember all too well the Test match played out on this ground just under a year ago in the aftermath of the death of Philip Hughes. After treatment, including a preliminary concussion test, the batsman continued.

It proved a torrid last hour or so, with the Pakistan spinners head, shoulders and standing on a ladder above their England counterparts, teasing and tantalising, spinning a web from which England will struggle to escape. By the close, they had lost two wickets: Moeen Ali for 22, with a couple of boundaries in there, lbw attempting to work the off-spin of Shoaib Malik to leg and failing to get the decision overturned on review.

Two balls after Moeen’s departure, to the delight of the small but exuberant gathering of Pakistan supporters, Cook, sweeping the left-arm spin of Zulfigur, survived by the skin of his teeth and another umpire’s call, against Pakistan’s review. But then, with no further addition to the score, Ian Bell played inside a delivery from Shoaib, delivered from round the wicket, that went on with the arm to hit off-stump and left the batsman, not for the first time this year, contemplating his future. In the event, Cook (17) and Joe Root (6) did well to survive the eight overs to stumps with England 46 for two, requiring a further 238.

To stand any chance of getting back into the match at all, England needed an outstanding morning with the ball and in the field, but managed neither. The start was eventful enough. Cook opened with Adil Rashid and his first ball dipped into to the leg-stump of Mohammad Hafeez and struck his front pad. The umpire ruled not out, seeing the ball pitch outside of the line of leg-stump, but England wasted a review in finding that out.

Shortly afterwards, Hafeez, still yet to reach his hundred, advanced yards down the pitch to Rashid, and misread a googly which, unfortunately, so did Jonny Bairstow, the ball going for byes and the chance begging. It was to be Rashid’s best over of the match. Hafeez had ridden his luck to his ninth Test hundred, from 169 balls, with nine fours and a six, not least on the previous day when on 2 and England swear blind he edged behind. But for all that, he gave, until he finally miscued to long-on for 151, a quality example of how to play spin, albeit of the indifferent variety, by diligently keeping out the good balls and belting the bad ones. If it is a tactic the England batsmen could emulate, they have and will find that there are more of the former and considerably fewer of the latter.

Right throughout the series, it has been the bowling of the England pace men who have held the attack together and in this particular match, following the injury to Ben Stokes, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have produced a collective performance that, in context, can never have been bettered by any England pair in such conditions as these. The figures for the match tell a sorry story of England spin bowling at the highest level.

By the time the second innings was finished Anderson and Broad had taken 5 for 96 between them, with the three spinners, Rashid, Samit Patel and Moeen, taking 3 for 248, this on a pitch offering them considerable encouragement.

The contention that England would have been better advised to play a battery of five pace bowlers still holds up. For the match, Broad and Anderson have produced, quite remarkably, combined figures of 77.1 overs, 29 maidens, 126 runs and 11 wickets. The spinners, by stark contrast, 7 for 423. How hard it is for the pace pair to take on the twin roles of hunting and containing while their efforts were being squandered at the other end.

(Guardian service)

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