At the age of 38, and in the final Test of a tour in which most sage judges feared that his imperious talents were beginning to fade, Younis Khan rolled back the years in stunning fashion on the third afternoon at the Kia Oval, crushing England’s hopes of a slender first-innings deficit with a brilliant 218.
By tea, at the approximate halfway mark of the fourth and final Test, Younis’s efforts had carried Pakistan to a formidable lead of 214, a remarkable improvement of their overnight advantage of 12, and testament to how expertly he had coaxed the best out of a previously brittle Pakistan tail. Until James Anderson finally crowbarred an lbw decision from Marais Erasmus with ten minutes of the session remaining, England had looked bereft of ideas on a pitch that still appears to be offering more life than the scoreline would suggest.
Having played second fiddle to a typically pugnacious cameo of 44 from 78 balls from Sarfraz Ahmed in the morning session, Younis took command of both the scoring and the strike as the afternoon wore on, adding 37 in 11.3 overs with Wahab Riaz, who made 4 from 32 balls, then 97 in 20.3 with the steadfast Mohammad Amir, who waited 23 balls to get off the mark as he helped his senior partner power through to his sixth double-hundred, before joining the celebrations three balls later by lashing Moeen Ali over deep midwicket for six.
When Pakistan’s last man, Sohail Khan, holed out to mid-on on the stroke of tea, Amir was the last man standing, unbeaten on a career-best 39 not out from 70 balls, his initial caution having given way to a florid range of strokes that ramped England’s frustrations up to boiling point. But Younis’s magnificence transcended everything else. He had begun the day on 101 not out, his confidence restored after a torrid series, and while Sarfraz dominated their morning partnership of 77, he bided his time, ensured his eye was fully in, then climbed into a tiring and tetchy England attack with a breathtaking shift of his gears.
Having waited 13 balls to add to his overnight total, and with a handful of cherry-picked boundaries to keep his innings ticking along, the first real indication that Younis was set to produce a masterpiece came in the final over before lunch. Moeen was thrown the ball for an exploratory over of offspin, but Younis lashed him for two fours in three balls – a crushing drive through the covers and a rubber-wristed sweep past backward square, to go to the break on 147 not out.
Soon after the resumption, he passed 150 for the 12th time in his formidable Test career, with a full-throated pull through square leg off Stuart Broad, then repeated the trick in Broad’s next over as the long-suffering Moeen at fine leg receiving a tongue-lashing from his bowler for failing to cut off the boundary.
England’s mood worsened before it could improve, as Alastair Cook shelled England’s fourth catch of the innings as Wahab poked outside off to Moeen, only for the opportunity to burst through his fingers at slip. Though Wahab fell two balls later without addition – slightly fortuitously stumped off Jonny Bairstow’s gloves as the ball deflected back into the stumps – the arrival of Amir was Younis’s cue to go into overdrive.
The score at that stage was 434 for 8, the lead a healthy but still precarious 106 – only three runs more, in fact, than the deficit that England had overcome in last week’s third Test at Edgbaston. But with a qualified faith in his team-mate’s durability, Younis took it upon himself to farm the strike as best he could, seeking to limit Amir to one or two balls per over, while cashing in as best he could at the business end of each over.
While he picked a brace of boundaries off the quietly fuming Broad – a calculated edge through gully and a sumptuous full-faced four through the covers, it was Moeen, inevitably, who bore the brunt of Younis’s aggression. Cook kept faith in his offspinner’s ability to wheedle out important wickets – Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq have both fallen twice to him in the series to date – but Younis treated his offerings with contempt, battering him for three massive sixes in the space of five overs, the last of which – high and mighty over wide long-on – brought up his double-hundred, from 281 balls.