In little more than an hour on the third morning, the balance of the second Test, and perhaps with it the series, swung heavily in Pakistan’s favour. England collapsed calamitously, surrendering to panic where once there had been order, disorientated once more in the shifting sands of the UAE. From that moment, it seemed there was no way back.
Pakistan, thrillingly opportunistic, claimed the last seven England wickets for 36 in 18 overs then, with a first-innings lead of 136 at their disposal, bedded in as if nothing untoward had happened, a salutary reminder that the Dubai pitch remained good for batting and that England’s batsmen had brought much of the suffering upon themselves.
By the close, Pakistan had extended their lead to 358 runs with seven wickets still standing, and are now mightily placed to go 1-0 up in the three-Test series. England are already well into uncharted territory, their highest chase being 332 for 7 against Australia in 1928.
Watching Pakistan’s experienced fourth-wicket pair, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq guide Pakistan into a position of supremacy as the shadows lengthened, their unbroken stand worth 139, the sensation grew that some of the emphasis on attacking cricket by England’s young middle order is so much fluff and that, in Test cricket at least, enterprise must come from a solid technical base. Otherwise, what is left is largely self-indulgence.
Misbah’s method has been unshakeable. He has obstructed the pace bowlers with straight-batted defiance, impervious to the periods when the game has meandered along, then has burst into life against the spinners with Adil Rashid, in particular, lofted dispassionately into the open spaces on the leg side. Younis kept his flirtier moments under wraps, a paragon of virtue.
But Misbah should have fallen to Ben Stokes on 56 only for Jos Buttler to remain static when the edge came, his batting ills perhaps eating away at his wicket-keeping. Stokes, nearing the end of a staunch spell, understandably sledged away his frustration. Sledging Misbah seems unlikely to succeed, but he probably felt better for it.
If England’s morning collapse was reminiscent of their disarray on their last visit to the UAE when Pakistan’s spinners ran riot, this time it was Wahab Riaz’s left-arm pace that led the way in an outstanding introductory spell of 9-5-15-3. It was arguably the coolest weather of the series, the temperature barely touching 30C, but it was a prodigious summoning of hostility nonetheless.
Wahab, at 30, is now stating himself as one of the finest fast bowlers in the world, so accomplished these days that one can observe his 14 Tests and wonder how the figure is not so much higher.
Evenly placed at the start of the third day, England were hustled into distraction, dismissed on the stroke of lunch for 242. Misbah, recognising that at 182 for 3 the game was in the balance, turned immediately to his two most potent bowlers, teaming the left-arm pace of Wahab with the leg spin of Yasir Shah.
England had no answer. Wahab occasionally reversed the ball at pace and Yasir, a dangerous ally, was a bundle of ambition, buoyed by the knowledge that the pitch was drying and scuffing by the hour. They shared the first six wickets evenly, cranking up the challenge when it most mattered, making such short shrift of England that, even with two innings remaining, discussions immediately resurfaced about the persistent batting ailments displayed by the likes of Ian Bell and Buttler.
Lift the Root and the undersoil can look thin. From the moment that Root departed for 88, driving optimistically at Wahab to give the wicketkeeper, Sarfraz Ahmed, the first of three successive catches, England crumbled.
Root’s positivity has been one of the hallmarks of a year in which he has vied with Steven Smith as the best batsman in the world, and his runs have disguised England’s failings elsewhere, but this time such eagerness proved his downfall.
As much as his fellow Yorkshireman, Jonny Bairstow, tried to repel the charge, there was no certainty in his resistance and both Stokes and Buttler looked ill-equipped to soak up the pressure.
Stokes suffered for ponderous footwork when Wahab found a little extra bounce outside off stump, while Buttler is technically tangled and so low on self-belief that his place in the side is surviving because of reputation rather than performance. His desire to stay inside the line persuaded Wahab to switch to round the wicket and he hung out his bat without conviction. Another failure in the second innings could be terminal.
Rashid’s dismissal was most culpable. Perhaps unsettled by his first delivery, which he allowed to skip past his off stump by a narrow margin, he had a slog at his second ball from Yasir and was caught in the covers from a leading edge. That dismissal, in particular, smacked of a failure to combat the mounting pressure.
It could have been worse. Bairstow did overturn a slip catch by Younis on review – one of those marginal decisions when the camera opposes the instincts of the fielder – but he failed to survive a second review when Yasir threw in a quicker delivery. Yasir’s quicker ball troubled him and he looked particularly vulnerable on the cut shot.
England’s collapse even had a moment of farce. When Wood was given out by Paul Reiffel, the on-field umpire summoned help from the third umpire, Chris Gaffaney, to ascertain whether the edge had come before Wood’s bat ground into the dirt, which Gaffaney concluded was the case. Wood then reviewed, clinging to some outlandish theory that the third umpire might then overturn his own decision. Perhaps it was an inability to accept the truth, a belief that the process had not been properly followed, or a hot sun had finally begun to have its effect.
Broad then did survive another TV verdict, requested by Reiffel, perhaps fortunately, when Pakistan clamoured for a catch off the boot of the short leg, Masood, sweeping. It was a short reprieve. When Imran Khan had Anderson caught off the shoulder of the bat in the next over, it was all over. The sun burned down – and England’s bowlers were about to go out in it again far sooner than they had hoped.
They did make early inroads. Masood remains Anderson’s bunny, dismissed four times in the last 17 deliveries he has faced from the leader of England’s attack, the latest addition being a regulation edge to the wicketkeeper in Anderson’s first over. He had already been dropped, on 0, by Buttler, off Broad.
Shoaib Malik, perhaps anticipating a short delivery from Wood, played on as he drove with non-existent footwork while Hafeez threatened to settle the contest quickly in Pakistan’s favour, pulling Wood confidently to reach his half-century before he drove at the next ball and edged to Joe Root at first slip.
The partnership that mattered included another statistical milestone for Younis – 9,000 Test runs passed – and an exceptional piece of old-manning by Misbah who shaped to sweep Rashid and, aware of the activity behind his back where the keeper, Buttler, and slip, Anderson, were rushing to the leg side in anticipation, adjusted at the last second to steer the ball through what was now a vacant slip region. All this cat-and-mouse has been made permissible by a recent change in the laws by MCC, which gave fielders licence to move before the ball has been bowled. Misbah’s resourceful response showed that, 41 or not, he is far from set in his ways.