Azhar Ali builds priceless lead for Pakistan
England 233 and 6 for 1 (Cook 0*, Anderson 2*) trail Pakistan 308 (Azhar 92*, Yousuf 56, Swann 4-68) by 69 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Azhar Ali was rendered virtually scoreless last week but showed his true talents at The Oval as his outstanding, unbeaten 92 earned Pakistan a valuable lead of 75. Mohammad Yousuf played his part with a composed 56 before becoming Graeme Swann's 100th Test wicket and, though the visitors would have liked a greater advantage, it grew in significance when Andrew Strauss fell before the close.
For the first time during the season Pakistan passed 300 as Azhar and Mohammad Asif added a priceless 38 for the last wicket to frustrate England's efforts to wrap up the innings. Andrew Strauss dropped Asif at slip on 4 - in what would become a bad hour for the England captain - and it took a further seven overs before the No. 11 drove Swann to mid-off with Azhar left eight short of a maiden Test hundred.
That left the home side with an awkward 15 minutes to survive, but Strauss couldn't see out the first over when, having already under-edged a pull past the stumps, edged low to second slip against Mohammad Amir who has removed Strauss four times in the series. Alastair Cook will have been relieved to face just two balls as James Anderson did his job as nightwatchman and the third day will provide an examination of the belief in both teams.
The presence of Yousuf in the middle order certainly had an immediate effect on Pakistan and not only in the obvious manner of the runs he scored. The calmness he exuded at the crease filtered through to his partners. Firstly, Wahab Riaz fought hard for two hours, and then Azhar played far more positively than at Edgbaston. Azhar faced a total of 117 balls in the previous Test for just 19 runs, but moved along at a livelier pace as 104 runs were added during the afternoon session.
Yousuf understandably took time to play himself in and was beaten by a few good deliveries, but slowly began to find his feet with a neat clip through backward square and a straight drive off Steven Finn. After lunch he began to increase the tempo, but never moved out of his comfort zone of accumulation with effortless glides to third man being of particular frustration to the pacemen. His fifty came from 95 balls and it was hard to tell he'd been out of Test cricket for seven months or had barely picked up a bat before his retirement u-turn following the SOS that went out from the Pakistan management to join this tour.
It was Swann that made him work hardest and that was a huge compliment to England's offspinner, who was belatedly added to the ICC Cricketer of the Year list after controversially missing out yesterday. He gave another display of his class when, switching to around the wicket, he persuaded Yousuf to offer a return catch and became the seventh-fastest Englishman to 100 wickets, taking 23 Tests to draw level with Derek Underwood.
However, Yousuf's departure didn't herald an immediate collapse as Azhar continued to time the ball sweetly and Umar Akmal lofted Swann for a handsome straight six. Umar continued aggressively, but shortly after taking Pakistan into the lead ran himself out when he went for a non-existent single to cover and couldn't turn around in time to beat Eoin Morgan's throw. England then worked through the lower order with the second new ball, but Azhar played superbly and unfurled some powerful strokes when left with Asif including a thumping blow to long-off against Finn.
England had made the perfect start to the day when Finn found Yasir Hameed's outside edge with the second ball of the day and it looked as though Pakistan would struggle again. Salman Butt, demoted down the order after Hameed's inclusion, was given an early life when Morgan spilled a catch at backward point although it didn't prove too costly for England as Swann once again struck as soon as he came into the attack.
Butt top-edged a cut and Prior juggled the ball before finally holding onto the chance which left Pakistan wobbling on 76 for 3. But Riaz proved much harder to shift despite a first-class average of 15.22. As with his bowling yesterday he grinned his way through most of the innings and it looked as though he would see out the session until he missed a sweep at the first ball of Swann's second spell. However, Riaz's main job will resume on Friday when Pakistan try to make their hard-earned advantage count.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo