SHARJAH: Pakistan were circling a wounded opponent as the fourth day in Sharjah drew to a close with England two wickets down in pursuit of a seemingly distant target of 284. A century fromM.Hafeez had underpinned Pakistan’s fightback after conceding a first-innings deficit and only the presence ofCook and Root, England’s two best batsman, at the crease gave the tourists slender reason to hope for an historic victory.Hafeez’s outstanding 151 laid the sturdiest of foundations and left England facing a battle to avoid a 2-0 defeat in the series. Although the scores have gone up in each innings so far in this match, the chase was much steeper than anything England had previously achieved in Asia and Pakistan’s spinners looked far more adept than their English counterparts at taking advantage of a wearing pitch.The injury suffered by Ben Stokes on the first day, effectively reducing England to 10 fit men and a bloody-minded No. 11 with a strapped-up shoulder, has added to the challenge. Even getting close would represent one of England’s greatest achievements in the UAE, where they have yet to win a Test in five attempts and counting.Pakistan are the masters of their domain, for all that England have run them hard throughout the series. Endeavour can only get you so far, however, and a skills deficit in certain areas – spin bowling, most notably – has allowed Pakistan to exert themselves at key moments. Several missed chances in the field on the fourth day, most damagingly a stumping before Hafeez had added to his overnight score, also served to undermine what was an admirably wholehearted effort.
England began their chase with a degree of elan. Moeen Ali overcame what looked a nasty blow to the back of a the helmet when ducking into a Wahab Riaz bouncer to help take 23 off the opening four overs from Pakistan’s quicks. But the battle was only really joined when Misbah-ul-Haq turned to his spinners. This was where the Test would be won and lost.Zulfiqar Babar’s second ball snaked menacingly past Cook’s off stump, the low bounce amplifying the sense of danger, and the cries of the men around the bat, led by the ever-excitable Sarfraz Ahmed, began to echo louder and louder around the Sharjah Cricket Stadium as England’s momentum dissipated. It took 18 overs of spin for England to double their score.For the second time in the match, Moeen fell to the offspin of Shoaib Malik, a review failing to save him after being caught on the crease by one that would have skidded on to hit leg stump. Malik, on his farewell Test appearance after announcing his retirement at the close of the third day, then breached Ian Bell’s defences in his next over.