Sunday in Multan was the halfway point of this historic Test tour and an hour after lunch, as a bumper crowd left sat stunned by a trio of peachy dismissals, it appeared England were surging towards the series win at the earliest opportunity.
Set 355 to win courtesy Harry Brook’s second century of the tour, a masterful 108 from 149 balls, Pakistan were reeling on 83 for three. Jimmy Anderson had bowled Mohammad Rizwan with a delivery to rank among the top tier of his 674 Test victims, while Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood produced collectors’ items of their own.
And yet whether driven by a sense of atonement for their first-innings meltdown, or simply the prospect of overhauling a fourth-innings record chase on home soil, Pakistan dominated the next two hours of play, with the left-handed pairing of Saud Shakeel and Imam-ul-Haq adding 108 runs for the fourth wicket in characterful fashion.
Such was the control shown on a pitch playing as well as it had all match, the tourists could have been forgiven for wondering if they had been wasteful when their overnight 202 for five became 275 all out. There were a couple of other nagging thoughts too, with Iman handed lives on 19 and 54 when put down by Will Jacks off his own bowling and a tickle down leg off Wood went undetected by everyone.
But barely minutes before sunset on a day when his figures took a bit of a pounding, Jack Leach produced a moment to allay some of this creeping English dread. The left-arm spinner had Imam caught at slip on 60 to see Pakistan close on 198 for four from 64 overs. The composed Saud was still there unbeaten on 54, however, and a positively intriguing fourth day has been set up.
As was the case in Rawalpindi, it was England’s seamers who looked the likeliest and during the hour after lunch, their skills came to the fore. Anderson set things in motion with his fifth ball of the innings and the session, a wonderful angled delivery into Mohammad Rizwan that moved lavishly off the seam to beat the outside edge and bowl the auxiliary opener for 30. Rizwan could scarcely believe it.
Robinson soon compounded the breakthrough with a peach of his own, bowling Babar Azam for the second time in the match when from wide of the crease he got the Kookaburra to again deck in. This time there was no defence to beat, Babar shouldering arms on one and hearing the death rattle behind.
And when Wood became the third lumberjack on show, Abdullah Shafique bowled by an 87mph boomerang that swung through the air, Ben Stokes and his players could have been forgiven for eyeing up two days at Rumanza Golf Club north before the flight to Karachi. England had certainly batted like this was the plan in the morning, delivering arguably their sloppiest session of the tour that added 73 runs to Pakistan’s final target but saw them lose their last five wickets for 19 runs.
It was Brook who teed off first thing, peeling off six fours to turn the wonderfully assured 74 he had overnight into a second century in just his third Test match. While the 23-year-old’s prefers an understated celebration, one fancies his grandmother, Pauline, a wonderfully excited stand-in when collecting his recent PCA Men’s Young Player of the Year award, was breakdancing in the front room back home.
Brook added 101 for the sixth wicket alongside Stokes, once again demonstrating the alluring combination of power and precision he possesses. The England captain was in Twenty20 mode at the other end, which is to say he played watchfully for his 41. That said, when Stokes muscled Abrar Ahmed over the sight-screen in the ninth over of the day, it was his 107th six in Test cricket, equalling the record held by his head coach, Brendon McCullum.
A bid to claim the title outright proved his undoing, however, as well as the start of England’s innings rather fizzling out in a flurry of ambitious slogs. Among the most lamentable was the demise of Robinson, bowled on the charge fifth ball to gift Abrar an 11th wicket on debut.
England clearly felt they had plenty but when Rizwan and Shafique added 64 runs before lunch, it became apparent that this pitch was staying largely consistent and the quest for 10 wickets would not be straightforward.