Work to be done but England strike late in Pakistan


late flurry of wickets meant that England finished day three of the first Test slightly ahead with Pakistan still 158 runs behind and seven wickets down.

On a day where creativity in the field was the key, England set their stall out early. With the first ball of the day, Joe Root, the offspinner, ran up and bowled a bouncer.

It would be a theme for the day as England went to any and all means in pursuit of wickets. And in the morning session, it worked.

Three wickets, including both openers Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Huq who had completed their centuries in the first hour of the day, before Jack Leach claimed the wicket of Azhar Ali on the stroke of lunch.

Of particular joy for England was the performance of Will Jacks, who claimed his first Test wicket when Shafique edged behind to Ollie Pope. Five overs later Imam also departed as he was caught off the bowling of Leach by Ollie Robinson at a deepish mid-on.

But if the morning belonged to England, the afternoon belonged to Babar Azam. Not since the sun set in the west has something felt as inevitable as the Pakistan captain scoring a century and he did so here at a canter.

Even when taking into account the various caveats that this lifeless pitch presents, Babar is a class apart in home conditions. In 14 innings on Pakistan soil, Babar has five centuries and an average of 87.75. Such is his popularity in his home nation that the second loudest cheer of the day was the one that celebrated the wicket of Imam-ul-Haq that brought Babar to the crease. The fans that came today did, in part, come to watch Pakistan. But they also came for Babar.

At home: Azam is compelling on home soil

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The loudest, however, came when he brought up his century. On 99, the crowd chanted his name as a crescendo built towards the inevitable. Babar cut Stokes through the offside and the stadium leapt to its feet in celebration. With noise all around, Babar stood proudly in the middle and acknowledged each corner. Even in a contest where runs have flowed as easily as they have in this (Babar’s century is the seventh of the match), it was a moment to savour.

But England would more than fight back in the evening as they took four wickets, including the prize scalp of Babar himself.

The first to fall after the tea break was that of debutant Saud Shakeel. The evening session was just two balls old when he wafted at a wide Ollie Robinson delivery and edged through to Pope to give England a vital breakthrough out of nowhere. Along with Babar, Shakeel had added 123.

That wicket brought Mohammad Rizwan to the crease. Rizwan and Babar are one of the most fearsome partnerships in T20 cricket and they renewed that chemistry to good effect here as Rizwan in particular took a liking to Leach. But in the space of two overs, both would depart and the match be blown, if not wide open, then ajar.

First, Babar cut a Jacks delivery to point that had just got a touch more bounce than expected, before James Anderson took his first ever wicket in Pakistan when a plan came together. Bowling around the wicket to Rizwan, Anderson shaped the ball back into the right-hander who chipped it to a jubilant Stokes at midwicket. Pakistan were 475-6 and still almost 200 runs behind.

The icing on the cake for England would come in the dying overs of the day as Naseem Shah would go for one slog too many and find Leach in the deep who took a good catch to give Jacks his third wicket.

Two overs later and the day was done with Pakistan 499-7. It is testament to the runfest that such a score could even remotely be considered as a success for England, but that is the reality.

Ultimately, for anything other than a draw to be the result here, something remarkable must take place. But if this England side is known for absolutely anything, it is their ability to do just that.

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