|First Test, Rawalpindi (day three of five)|
|England 657 all out: Brook 153, Crawley 122, Pope 108, Duckett 107|
|Pakistan 499-7: Babar 136, Imam 121, Shafique 114, Jacks 3-132|
|Pakistan trailed by 158 runs|
England’s determination and persistence was rewarded with crucial late wickets on the third day of the first Test against Pakistan.
In back-breaking conditions on a lifeless pitch in Rawalpindi, the tourists looked set to be frustrated by a classy century from home captain Babar Azam.
But when Babar slashed Will Jacks to point to depart for 136, James Anderson followed up by removing Mohammed Rizwan, before debutant Jacks had Naseem Shah caught at deep mid-wicket.
That gave off-spinner Jacks 3-132 and put Pakistan on 499-7 at the close, still 158 behind.
It was nothing more than England deserved on a day when they tried everything to conjure chances despite the minimal assistance on offer.
Saturday began with Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq completing centuries, making this the first Test in history where each opener on both sides has made a hundred in the first innings.
A maiden Test wicket for Jacks and two for Jack Leach left Pakistan 290-3 and gave England an opening.
Then came Babar’s brilliance and the late drama.
England rewarded for long toil
This was a magnificent display by England, just as impressive as their record-breaking exploits in racking up 657 with the bat.
Rawalpindi is a notoriously difficult ground on which to force a result – only 14 wickets fell in the last Test at this venue.
Yet, England are adamant that they do not play to draw – all seven matches in the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum era have had a positive result – and their hard work has left them with an excellent chance of victory.
Hampered by the absence of Liam Livingstone, who did not take the field all day because of a knee injury, England’s bowlers never lost their discipline, while Stokes toyed and tinkered with his fields.
They will return refreshed on Sunday, confident of wrapping up the Pakistan tail and securing a sizable lead.
Then, how England go about setting Pakistan a target and leaving themselves enough time to bowl the hosts out again is likely to be thrilling viewing.
Brilliant Babar delights Rawalpindi
Only a handful of spectators were keen enough to turn up on a sedate Saturday morning but, as Babar’s score grew, so did the crowd.
On the hottest day of the match so far, home fans chanted Babar’s name, often dueling with the trumpeter who tried to keep English spirits high.
While not matching England’s rapid scoring, Babar was the most fluent of the Pakistani centurions. He pounced to pull anything short and eagerly used his feet against the spinners, including hitting Leach for six to bring up his half-century.
He slapped Stokes through the covers to reach the seventh century of the match and undoubtedly the most popular.
So comfortable, Babar looked set to bat on into Sunday. Out of nowhere, he miscued Jacks to the point of leaving the Pindi Stadium in silence.
It was the first of four wickets to fall for 84 runs, a decisive swing in England’s favor.
Early and late success for England
England’s effort and creativity rarely dropped, it was just that their successes came either side of the Babar masterclass.
Even when faced with a score that read 405-3, Stokes employed as many as seven close catchers.
Pakistan had resumed on 181-0. Shafique moved from 89 to register his third hundred in only eight Tests, Imam went from 90 to earn his third ton on this ground.
Debutant Jacks induced an edge from Shafique for his maiden Test wicket before Imam lofted Leach to long-on. Then, bowling with the second new ball, Leach scurried one into the pads of Azhar Ali, who was lbw.
Off-spinner Jacks only had 21 first-class wickets before this match and none will be more valuable than the mistake he induced from Babar.
Another sign of England’s invention was Anderson bowling round the wicket to have Rizwan clip to mid-wicket and Jacks struck again via an excellent catch by Leach at deep mid-wicket off Naseem’s unnecessary swipe.
‘Scoring quickly has bought us another day’ – what they said
England’s Joe Root, speaking to Test Match Special: “It has put us in a really strong position. All the hard work we put in leading into that final session, we got our just rewards.
“We had to be quite creative, try to do things differently and think outside the box and that hard work leads us to be in a strong position going into tomorrow.
“Having such a big first-innings score and scoring so quickly has almost bought us another day.
“It may look odd looking at the scorecard but on that wicket hopefully things will speed up towards the back end of the game – we think we have a really good opportunity to win this game.”
Pakistan opener Abdullah Shafique to Sky Sports: “It has been a good day for Pakistan as we have played well. Yes we lost some wickets but we are in a good position.
“We have a positive approach. There is no talk of going for the draw. England will play attacking and give us a good total. So we will fight it out.”