Pakistan are in the driving seat after three days of the final Test. A day of toil for England in which, not for the first time in this neck of the woods, the batting failed against quality spin bowling and their spin bowling was in turn milked as readily as if it had been a pedigree Jersey run cow, saw Pakistan end on 146 for three.
Mohammad Hafeez, having had a caught-behind decision against him overturned when on two, played brilliantly for an unbeaten 97, with nine fours and three sixes.
The wicket of Younis Khan, lbw to Stuart Broad's excellent off-cutter for 14 shortly before the close, offering no stroke, has given England just a glimmer. But in terms of simple figures, while a Pakistan lead of 74 does not yet sound commanding, then it is England, having managed to gain a first-innings lead of 72, who must bat last on a surface that has been as benign as it is going to get against twirlers who have proved a class or more above their England counterparts.
From this situation, England need some bowling heroics in the morning but will do well now to save the match: a loss would mean Pakistan take the series by two matches to nil, and would see Alastair Cook’s team drop to sixth in the ICC rankings.
England are a man down too. Ben Stokes’s injured right shoulder, defined as one to the collar bone joint rather than a dislocation, will prevent him playing any other part in this match except as an emergency batsman, a role he duly fulfilled as a last-ditch effort to help boost England’s lead and may yet see him doing so again to save the match.
The prognosis for an injury of this type would seem to be a minimum of six weeks out but it is inconceivable that he would be able to bowl with any verve for a while beyond that. The first Test against South Africa starts on Boxing Day and that is looking too optimistic.
In the evening sun, with the shadows lengthening, Cook was doing his best to strike a balance between trying to take wickets, and keep the Pakistan openers Hafeez and Azhar Ali in check. He could barely trust his spinners, relying not on Moeen Ali, nor until the openers had already wiped out the deficit, Adil Rashid, but Samit Patel instead, with left-arm spin that is serviceable but hardly threatening to international batsmen.
Later though, even Jimmy Anderson, who has conceded runs as grudgingly as Jeremy Corbyn would his pence on a Tory party flag day, was unceremoniously clobbered from outside off-stump by Hafeez for six over midwicket, for no apparent reason at all except that he just felt like it and had picked an off-cutter.
Hafeez, who had shared an opening stand of 105 with Azhar, will begin the fourth day with the nightwatchman Rahat Ali, in after Younis’s dismissal. Azhar and Shoaib Malik had previously fallen in quick succession, the former to a calamitous comedy run out with more phases than an All Black attack, and the latter first ball to Anderson’s reverse-swung in-dipper which no one in their right mind would think of reviewing. Following his triumphant 245 in the first Test, Shoaib has since accumulated scores of 0, 2, 7, 38 and now 0 again, real feast and famine.
Anderson, who with Broad bowled heroically in the final session (as they have all series: have any England seamers ever bowled better in such conditions?) to try to keep England in the game, tormented Younis, who was turned inside out as if playing a Test match version of Twister: quite bizarre. Somehow, Pakistan’s champion batsman survived against England’s bowling equivalent until his late misjudgment.
At the start of play, there had been genuine optimism that England, only a dozen behind overnight, could establish a sufficient lead to put Pakistan under severe pressure to save the game. James Taylor had batted with real panache and Jonny Bairstow with commendable guts. Neither though was able to re-establish himself.
Taylor added only two more runs to his overnight 74 before being drawn into a defensive prod by Rahat’s clever away swing and edging a low catch which was superbly taken by Sarfraz Ahmed, while Bairstow, who had hung in gamely without convincing, was teased, set up and then beautifully bowled for 43 by Zulfiqur Barbar.
It was Patel, an accomplished player of spin, who batted as well as anyone in the game, defending well, hitting the loose ball firmly, and generally looking in complete control for 42 until Yasir Shah produced the unplayable ball that drifts in on to leg-stump and then fizzes away to clip the top of off. Yasir, like Rashid, had been tutored by Shane Warne before the match, and if the genius had taught him this Gatting ball then it was a lesson rapidly absorbed.
There was nothing left. Rashid had contributed eight to a seventh-wicket stand of 40 with Patel before he was caught at short leg from the last ball of the morning, and while Broad was left undefeated, neither Anderson nor Stokes could cope with Shoaib’s offspin.