SHARJAH:An enthralling series was heading towards a fitting conclusion in Sharjah, as Mohammad Hafeez’s classy, unbeaten 97 brought Pakistan back into the third Test. They had the better of a hard-fought third day, having erased England’s first-innings advantage with all ten wickets intact but the tourists remained in touch thanks to three wickets in the final hour.When James Anderson trapped Shoaib Malik lbw first ball with a wicked reverse-swinging delivery, returning him to the top of the wicket-takers list for the series, Pakistan were 105 for 2, just 33 runs ahead. But Hafeez, who had insouciantly pulled an Anderson offcutter for six in his previous over, kept Pakistan on course, despite losing Younis Khan as the light faded. Pakistan’s lead was 74 at the close, though the ineffectiveness of England’s spinners will give Alastair Cook an uneasy night.England’s first-innings 306 had given them a very handy 72-run lead but Hafeez helped raise Pakistan’s highest opening stand of the series in reply to turn this into a one-innings match. Batsmen have seldom felt secure on this pitch and both sides will know that the result could be decided by a single careless session – England learned as much in defeat in Dubai – though defending a target, however small, ought to give Pakistan the advantage.
The appearance during England’s innings of Ben Stokes, his right shoulder strapped up due to the collar bone injury he sustained on the first day, was symbolic of their determination to win a Test in the UAE for the first time and level the series. To do so effectively a man down would be all the more remarkable and the lack of Stokes as third seamer looked increasingly debilitating as Anderson was pressed into an nine-over spell during the evening session.Once again, Anderson and Stuart Broad gave nothing away, conceding just six runs between them in eight opening overs. Hafeez was given out on 2 in Anderson’s third but Bruce Oxenford’s decision was overturned on review, despite the limited technology, with daylight seemingly visible between ball and outside edge. Younis was not so lucky when Oxenford decided a delivery from Broad was coming back enough to hit off stump, with no shot offered, to leave Pakistan three down overnight.The watchful start was a calculated one and a warning flare went up when Hafeez skipped out to hit Samit Patel over long-off in the 10th over. Cook brought on his spinners early but the result was pressure being released, although Hafeez was lucky that an edge off Moeen Ali diverted just enough to miss Jonny Bairstow’s waiting gloves, hitting him on the thigh instead.
Patel also had an lbw appeal against Azhar turned down, with Hawk-Eye suggesting it would have hit middle stump – although he had come so far out of his crease that the point of impact was beyond three metres and would have rendered a DRS request futile. As tea approached, Bairstow nearly succeeded with an opportunistic stumping attempt when Azhar dozily lifted his foot after leaving a delivery from Rashid.When the breakthrough came, ending a stand of 101, it was via the sort of run-out that Azhar would wish to consign to Room 101. Having called for a single to mid-off, he then hesitated, saw Hafeez continue to charge down the pitch, started running again when the first throw missed but was still nowhere in sight when the ball was returned from midwicket for Rashid to break the stumps.
England had gradually stretched their lead during the morning, Patel continuing to make a good impression on his Test comeback, but Pakistan wrapped up the innings shortly after the interval as the last four wickets fell for 21. Malik, belatedly called upon having taken the wicket of Moeen at the start of the innings, finished with 4 for 33, his best Test figures.Pakistan had removed James Taylor and Bairstow, whose fifth-wicket stand of 89 helped England into the ascendency, inside the first hour but then found themselves repelled once again as the session wore on. It required the introduction of Malik’s offspin to dislodge Rashid after a stand of 40, helped by a brilliant catch at short leg from Azhar.Patel, coming in at No. 7 due to Stokes’ injury, looked as fluent as any England batsman and crunched six boundaries on the way to 42, his highest score in eight Test innings. His contribution was another valuable display of lower-order solidity, with every run precious, and it took a special delivery to remove him, Yasir Shah doing a passable imitation of Shane Warne’s “Ball of the Century” to clip the top of off stump. Some unkind souls might point out the similarities between Patel and Mike Gatting, too.
Anderson did not last long, playing inside another turning delivery from Malik, and his dismissal brought Stokes to the crease, glowering defiantly. He leaned stiffly out to defend his first ball, from Malik, before Misbah-ul-Haq decided to test his constitution with a blast from Wahab Riaz; Stokes took a glancing blow from a bouncer but merely grimaced and carried on. Broad had added 10 more to England’s total when Stokes’ brave resistance was ended by Malik, who hit off stump once again.Pakistan were quickly into their work to dismiss both overnight batsmen. Taylor added just two singles to his score and any hopes of a maiden Test hundred were snuffed out during an examining spell from Rahat Ali, who followed the lead of England’s seamers on the first day by drying up the runs and waiting for a mistake. Having played out two maidens from the left-armer, Taylor fenced a back-of-length delivery through to the diving Sarfraz Ahmed.
Rahat was into his fifth over before he conceded a run off the bat, though Patel then proceeded to crack boundaries either side of the wicket off him. At the other end, Zulfiqar Babar wheeled away in familiar manner. England have not had to fear many eruptions from Pakistan’s Old Faithful but there was an extra spurt to the arm ball that did for Bairstow, the batsman tied up and then skewered by a succession of subtly varied deliveries.The lead was just 11 at that stage and Pakistan could envision running through England’s lower order, just as they did on the third morning in Dubai. But little has come easily in this match and that did not look like changing.