England 207/5 (Cook 94, Trott 74, Ajmal 3/67)
England trail by 50 runs with five first innings wickets remaining
England dominated all bar the final hour of the day, but were powerless to resist as Saeed Ajmal clawed Pakistan back into the match.
Such an honour could be bestowed upon the aforementioned Ajmal, as his three wickets in the final hour have given Pakistan a route back into the game, and even a slim possibility of a first innings lead. In addition, the way he tormented Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan as the day drew to a close was a masterclass in spin bowling. Unfortunately, he is just pipped to the post by Jonathan Trott, who looked the most at ease of anyone who’s batted on this pitch so far – save perhaps Misbah – and his calm helped Alastair Cook to forge an innings of substance which was by no means his most fluent, but one testament to his ability to fight out tough situations. While Trott was at the crease it looked like England were on for a monster score, but his wicket, to a t’riffic piece of bowling from Adbur Rehman, gave Pakistan an opportunity which they seized with both hands.
That final hour could well prove to be the defining spell of the match. Trott’s dismissal was soon followed by Cook misjudging Ajmal’s length (stop giggling at the back) to fall LBW, before Kevin Pietersen did a bit of an oops and was caught behind via his pad and the ‘keeper’s gloves. By the time Eoin Morgan joined Ian Bell at the crease England fans were already booking themselves in for therapy, and that partnership did little to help their nerves. Ajmal could have sent Bell a letter describing in detail how to pick the doosra and the latter would still have got nowhere near it, while Morgan continued his efforts to get James Taylor into the starting XI before the winter is out. For a man supposedly an expert in playing spin he looked horribly out of his depth and it was almost a relief when he inexplicably chased a wide one to edge behind off the penultimate ball of the day. Only two of his scores above 50 have come when the team has totalled less than 450, while the one genuinely innings-saving performance came in just his third Test. Since then he averages just 26 – the most damning aspect of such a statistic is that it’s not a great deal worse than his career average (32). He probably only has Tim Bresnan’s elbow to thank for being assured of a place for the remainder of this winter’s tours. Unless something miraculous happens it may be a while before he gets back into the side after that.
The first session will be vital; if England can get through it without losing more than one wicket they will end up with a first innings lead. They will not want to chase much above 150 in the fourth innings (and are out of practice in that regard, anyway, given how awful their recent opposition have been) so an advantage of 50 or so could be crucial. Pakistan will be well aware they have the attack which could run through the tourists’ lower order if they can break the Bell/Prior partnership quickly. If they restrict England’s lead to no more than 20 they will be hugely satisfied. A lot rests on how they start.