Ladies and gentlemen. We have a game on our hands. At lunchtime today it looked like Pakistan might bat England out of the match. But thankfully our bowling attack never gave up, limited the damage, and wrestled some initiative back by tea.
Pakistan’s tail, which might rival Caddick, Giddins, Mullally and Tufnell as the worst we’ve seen in recent times, proved to be their achilles heel. With the score on 358-6, England’s tail might have added another hundred runs or more. But Pakistan limped to 400 and a lead of 103 – still a significant lead but a manageable one.
The crucial period of the day, of course, came after tea. If Pakistan had taken early wickets, England would’ve be in the deepest poop. As it happened, however, our openers played heroically. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s bowlers couldn’t muster the discipline the situation required.
Although the Pakistani seamers bowled a good line at Hales, who only managed five runs off his first thirty or so balls, the lines and lengths they bowled to Cook were unacceptable. Everyone in world cricket knows that you should bowl full and just outside off stump to the England captain. Pakistan obviously didn’t get the message.
Time and again the under par Amir and the stiff looking Sohail piled the buffet high. They either bowled too wide, too short, both too wide and too short (at the same time), or too far to the leg side. It was meat and drink for an accomplished test batsman.
On the rare occasions Pakistan actually got the ball in the right areas, they drew two regulation edges from Cook that would’ve carried to slip on a spicier deck. Did they learn their lesson? Nope. The diet of short bowling, which Cook tucked away with relish, continued. In the process they missed their big chance to win the test.
By the end of play, Cook and Hales looked in complete control. The skipper looks in imperious form – this pitch, which is very slow and subcontinental in nature – is right up his alley. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t make a hundred tomorrow. He excels in conditions like this.
Hales also played with great discipline. Pakistan bowled a lot better line and length to him (if a tad wide) but he showed good discipline and judgement to weather the storm and emerge on top. It was quite encouraging.
England are now in a good position. The one caveat is that this pitch is looking slower and flatter by the minute. There was very little in it for the bowlers on day 3 (even with the new ball) and a draw looks favourite from here. Perhaps that’s one reason why Hales and Cook looked so untroubled?
As it stands, it’s unlikely that either Pakistan or England will be able to take another ten wickets and win the match. Having said that, Pakistan’s tail is so brittle that England might only need five before the tourists throw in the towel. Time will tell.
Before I sign off – and I’m not going to tempt fate by saying England are slight favourites from here – a word for those in favour of four-day test cricket. If this was a four day game, a draw would now be a certainty. How rubbish would that be? Instead we have a fascinatingly poised test match and the chance of real drama on day five.
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