At the end of a second dizzying day in Multan, one in keeping with a city that seems in a constant state of fast forward, it was England who will sleep easier. Having run through Pakistan before lunch, assured half-centuries from Ben Duckett and Harry Brook mean their grip on proceedings is now vice-like.
Not even the ongoing fairytale of Abrar Ahmed’s debut – the mystery spinner taking his stash of wickets to 10 for the match – could brighten things for the hosts. After conspiring to 202 all out in reply to England’s 281 on day one, and then seeing the tourists close on 202 for five and thus a lead of 281, Babar Azam’s side know that to square the series with one to play, they need the highest score of the match.
Once Duckett had fallen to Abrar for the second time in the match, a long-hop from the mystery spinner keeping low to bowl the opener for 79, it was Brook who guided England through to the close. The Yorkshireman shrugged off the loss of Ollie Pope to a crazed run out with a dominant yet controlled display at the crease, striding off at the close unbeaten on 74 from 108 balls with Ben Stokes alongside him.
On a largely one-sided day, the pivotal moment had in fact come early when, amid the morning haze, Babar had his zing bails lit up by Ollie Robinson on 75 to kickstart a ruinous collapse of eight for 60 in 28.3 overs. It handed England a precious first innings lead of 79 runs from which they barely looked back.
Ignored by his captain the previous evening, Robinson’s second delivery of the match surprised everyone when it swung inside the Pakistan captain’s ambitious drive. Tongue out and arms outstretched in celebration, the 29-year-old had once again demonstrated his burgeoning skills with the older ball, this his sixth wicket of the series and his fifth after the 30-over mark.
Robinson’s five-over burst then sucked the ambition out of Pakistan almost instantly, their relative cruise to 142 at four runs an over stopped in its tracks as a collective state of anxiety descended. That said, Stokes deserves credit here, rethinking his plans overnight, offering Jack Leach extra protection against the slog sweep and seeing the left-arm spinner profit from indecision that resulted.
Leach twice struck the ball after being lofted over the top, the first of which, Saud Shakeel caught superbly by Jimmy Anderson for a compact 63, bringing up his 100th wicket in his 31st Test. The follow-up rather summed up Pakistan’s malaise, Mohammad Rizwan taking 28 balls to get off the mark and then bowled on the backfoot by a ball that spun past his crooked flick to leg.
Thereafter Pakistan began handing gifts to their guests. Mohammad Nawaz drilled Leach to mid-off and Joe Root struck twice in an over, Agha Salman inducing a collective sound from the crowd not dissimilar to his first name by chipping to mid-wicket and Mohammad Ali edging to Zak Crawley at slip via his pad.
Mark Wood then wrapped up the innings with his first Test wickets since March, hitting Zahid Mahmood’s front pad with a missile and shutting down a last-wicket stand of 23 between Abrar and Faheem Ashraf when the latter holed out with an extravagant flick. Wood, never shy of a smile, could scarcely hide his delight at Pakistan’s latest press of the self-destruct button.
Not that England were entirely resistant to the urge themselves. Crawley ran himself out in the fourth over of the afternoon – Abrar swooping from mid-off – and Will Jacks, promoted to No3 to allow Pope some time off the field, was bowled for four by the debutant attempting an ambitious slog.
But Duckett soon settled any initial nerves among the away dressing room, his 68-ball half-century setting the tone for England at large as they held back a fraction from the previous day’s exploits and went for a more nuanced, ruthless approach. Not even the loss of Root to a fine catch at short leg for 21, nor Pope’s swift demise, changed the general tenor of proceedings.