England 281 (Duckett 63, Pope 60, Abrar 7-114) and 275 (Brook 108, Duckett 79, Abrar 4-120) beat Pakistan 202 (Babar 75, Shakeel 63, Leach 4-98) and 328 (Shakeel 94, Imam 60, Wood 4-65) by 26 runs
In a fire-and-ice partnership of 80 in 21.5 overs, Shakeel had been the sheet-anchor while Nawaz carried the attack back to England’s bowlers, to whittle down the requirement deep into double figures. But in the space of six Wood deliveries, both men were blasted out via short balls down the leg-side – “strangles”, as you might deem them in ordinary situations. But on this surface, and in this scenario, Wood was bowling to a clear plan, attempting to get his bouncers as straight into body as possible, and bring his leg-side catchers into the game. Perhaps there was no real need to oblige him, but the dynamics of true pace can unsettle even the most well-set.
Pope – forever in the action in his supposedly stand-in role as wicketkeeper – was the man to scoop up both offerings, although debate will rage about the second, and most crucial, of Wood’s incisions. With a brilliantly gutsy century looming, Shakeel swung into his pull and under-edged his stroke, for Pope to make good ground and scoop the ball millimetres from the turf. Subsequent replays suggested, however, the ball may have made contact with the ground as his gloves closed around the chance, but guided by Aleem Dar’s on-field soft signal of out, third umpire Joel Wilson deemed there was not enough evidence to overturn.
The upshot was that Pakistan went to the break on 291 for 7, needing 64 more runs for victory, but despite the irrepressible efforts of the tail – not least Abrar Ahmed – the target would prove tantalisingly out of reach.
As if his 11-wicket haul wasn’t enough of an impact on debut, Abrar emerged for the final session in the mood to mash his team over the line – carving James Anderson through midwicket for four before using Wood’s pace against him with three more in four balls, including a dinky ramp through backward point. But with 17 from 11 balls, Abrar made room to flay Anderson through the off-side, and picked out Duckett at short cover to tilt the scales once more.
Agha Salman – Pakistan’s last recognised batter – decided his best bet, with 45 now needed, was to chance his arm when the field was up, even if it risked leaving his tail-end partners exposed. Twice he cracked consecutive boundaries off the fifth and sixth balls of an over, first off Anderson and then off a tiring Wood. Twice, however, England hit back with the very first ball of their next over. First, Wood flattened Zahid Mahmood’s off stump to leave Pakistan nine-down and 36 adrift. Then Robinson, back for the first ball of a new spell, hit that immaculate line-and-length that has been his trademark all tour, and though Ali reviewed, thinking the ball had flicked his pad, the replay showed a big snick off his edge as well.
It was a breathless finish to another pulsating fourth innings, and one that had been keenly in the balance from the very start of the day. With victory or bust beckoning for both teams, Pakistan had resumed on their overnight 198 for 4 – still a taxing but obtainable 157 away – but it was England who made the day’s first move. With a pair of left-handers at the crease, Joe Root was tossed up the ball to turn it away from the edge, and on 10, Faheem Ashraf pushed forward at his habitual round-the-wicket line for Zak Crawley to pouch a sharp chance at slip as the ball straightened and kissed the shoulder of the bat.
It was Root’s 50th Test wicket – making him only the third player in history to do the 10,000 runs / 50 wickets double – and at 210 for 5, England were inching into the ascendancy.
Shakeel, however, was unruffled as he steeled himself purely for endurance, safe in the knowledge that so long as he was there, Pakistan were very much on track. Nawaz, however – pushed up to No. 7 ahead of Salman – took a more proactive approach to his innings of 45 from 62. By taking on England’s spinners, he persuaded Stokes to turn to the second new ball the moment it became available, and though Robinson caused him some problems with his lifting line outside off stump, Nawaz responded with a crashing drive through the covers to leave Stokes scratching his head as he sized up his options.
Root had been Stokes’ initial choice for a share of the new ball, hoping that his round-arm offbreaks might skid on a touch faster, but Nawaz took the attack to him with a brace of proactive boundaries, prompting Anderson to re-enter the fray. He soon induced Shakeel into a low edge for four through the cordon, and that moment perhaps persuaded the batter that taking down the spinners was now Pakistan’s best ploy, with the threat at the other end mounting.
Shakeel drilled Jack Leach through the covers for his most forceful stroke of the morning, then top-edged a sweep in the same over that looped away to safety to take him into the 90s. At which point Stokes responded by turning back to Wood, whose round-the-wicket angle leaked another precious boundary as Nawaz flicked a short ball off his hips.
That, however, would be the last moment of true progress in the session for Pakistan. Two balls later, Nawaz flicked to Pope, and England’s route to victory had reopened. Wood’s irrepressible will to win meant there would be no denying his side a truly historic victory – only their fourth in more than 60 years of Tests in Pakistan, and their first series win since Nasser Hussain’s triumph in the dark 22 years ago in Karachi, the venue for next week’s finale.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
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