For two sessions this was a day of twists and turns, not the thrilling variety of batting collapses or exhilarating innings, but steady shifting of the sands, before England surged into a dominant position through a stand of 132 in 27 overs between Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali. It left them well-placed to push for a final-day victory at Edgbaston, with a lead of 311, because while the pitch remains true they will know there is a vulnerability to the Pakistan batting order.
In each session there was a time where Pakistan had an advantage, and were one quick wicket away from sending jitters through the England line-up. They removed Alastair Cook and Alex Hales within the first five overs of the day, shifted Joe Root and James Vince before tea and when Gary Ballance fell to Yasir Shah for the third time in the series the lead was still an uncertain 179.
But over the course of the remainder of the last session, Bairstow took control with a perfectly paced counterattacking innings, the most fluent batting of the day, as he and Moeen flayed a tiring attack. Having initially bided his time, he moved from 15 off 52 balls to a half-century from 83 deliveries, in the process becoming England’s highest-scoring wicketkeeper in a calendar year. His speed between the wickets took advantage of some heavy legs among the Pakistan side.
Some of the finest shots, though, came from Moeen as he dominated Yasir: a dance down the pitch and a whip wide of mid-on were the best of the lot, but his controlled off-side drive was worthy of note given his much-criticised dismissal at Lord’s. His second half-century of the match came from 64 balls
Misbah-ul-Haq was content not to over-attack even after the early breakthroughs and opted to bowl at England’s ego for much of the day – namely, their desire to score briskly – with a combination of close catchers and boundary sweepers. Rahat Ali’s seven-over spell in the first session included five consecutive maidens. The first session brought 63 runs, the second 79 but, having not quite taken enough wickets to keep England firmly on the back foot, and again limited by the four-man attack, the last session brought 152 in 36 overs. By the close, Azhar Ali was unfurling his friendly legspin.
There was, perhaps, one key moment Pakistan will look back on with regret before their long efforts in the field caught up with them. During a period of the morning session in which Pakistan kept the scoring rate down, Root, on 25, edged Rahat low towards Mohammad Hafeez at first slip but the chance was grassed. At that stage England were just 63 to the good.
Instead, Root and Vince were able to consolidate either side of lunch which took the immediate sting out of the day following the jolt of losing both overnight batsmen. There was a brief surge in the scoring shortly after lunch as Root went to his fifty from 108 balls, and his eagerness to increase the tempo may have played a part in his dismissal when he top-edged a sweep against Yasir with the legspinner operating round the wicket.
Vince had produced his sturdiest Test innings to date, resisting, ball after ball, from chasing deliveries outside off stump as Pakistan’s quicks hung the ball wide. He had again opened with a driven boundary, but forced himself to play within his body, profiting when the bowlers strayed too straight, with his other six boundaries come through the leg side. Yet, after 121 balls of composure, the nemesis returned as he dangled his bat at Mohammad Amir’s first delivery with the second new ball and edged to second slip.
Ballance again looked solid, but was again undone by Yasir from around the wicket. At Lord’s he was bowled, in the first innings here he tickled to the keeper and this time the edge went wider to the perfectly positioned leg slip, as though he momentarily forgot the man was there. It was worthy reward for Yasir who finished with 42 overs to his name. The pitch did not offer him much, but he created some uncertainty from round the wicket into the footmarks.
While the day ended strongly for England, and the threat of defeat has been all but removed barring something remarkable from one of Pakistan’s top order, it will irk them that none of the top three could convert their starts into three figures, something that was an issue in the first Test before being overcome at Old Trafford.
After letting the game slip on the third evening – Mickey Arthur made his displeasure known after play – Pakistan needed an early spark. They got it from Yasir, but in the field rather than with the ball. Sohail Khan, who had come in for some of Arthur’s criticism, drew Cook into driving at a wide delivery which he spooned towards point where Yasir dived full length to his left.
In the next over, Hales’ patience also snapped as Amir probed away outside his off stump and suckered him into a drive which was well taken at second slip by Younis Khan. There was a zip about Pakistan’s cricket, sensing a sniff to get into England’s middle order, and Root was given an early wake up when his second ball from Sohail leapt over his top edge.
Root appeared to be having problems with his back, a long-standing issue he manages, and at one stage need attention from the physio. But it did not appear to overly hamper him in the afternoon, the pain on his face as he walked off more a realisation that another Test hundred had passed him by.