England v Pakistan, 3rd npower Test, The Oval, 3rd day August 20, 2010

Cook rides his luck before Amir and Ajmal's blitz

Shy of the day
"All he needs is a bit of luck," said Andrew Strauss on the eve of the Test, but given the frame of mind with which he began this pivotal day, Alastair Cook had probably ruled out any charitable donations to his cause, as he battled to emerge from the most chronic slump of his career. Having done most of the hard work, however, on 97 he received final confirmation that his fortunes had come full circle. A casual forward defensive rolled back up to the pitch to Mohammad Asif, who picked it up in a mild huff and flung a wild and wasteful shy straight back over the batsman's head, and some three feet beyond the reach of the sprawling Kamran Akmal. It wasn't the most conventional means of saving one's immediate international career, but Cook was happy to accept all offerings.

Let-offs of the day
Brilliantly though he battled - and the full value of his effort was plain to see in England's dramatic post-tea slump - Cook did indeed get the rub of the green he needed to get his game brain back in full working order. Twice in two balls in the fifth over of the day, he poked outside off to Mohammad Asif and watched heart-in-mouth as the ball fizzed through the slips and away for consecutive fours. But the bigger moment came towards the end of the first hour. A beauty from Wahab Riaz exploded off the edge and headed at a catchable height towards the cordon. But first and second slip gestured limply to one another, and the moment was lost there and then. The three false shots had contributed 12 runs to his cause, and suddenly Cook's innings was up and running on 27 not out - only two runs shy of his best innings of the summer.

Breakthrough of the day
Having watched Cook end his wait for three figures, Kevin Pietersen evidently believed that his own time had come. He looked in prime form in the second hour after lunch as he punched along to 23 not out in a stand with Jonathan Trott that looked likely to define the match. But then, in the first over of the final session, he was stitched up a treat by the spin of Saeed Ajmal, to set in motion the most gripping mini-session of the day. The first five balls of the over were tossed up towards the pads, as Ajmal relied on his doosra to lull KP's defences. The sixth, however, was a snorter - a ripping offbreak from round the wicket, that pitched on off stump, gripped the turf and leapt through a yawning gate into the top of off and middle. Pietersen looked bemused, as well he might. Spin had once again proved his downfall.

Anchor of the day
The jury is out on Trott's mindnumbing innings. While he was in situ, his go-slow performance seemed brilliantly and belligerently perverse - precisely the sort of Tavaré-esque prod-fest that is sure to get right up the Australians' wick in the Ashes later this year. So long as he stayed put, England's slow march towards a defendable total seemed assured, and in the final over before the tea break, he poked Asif back down the wicket to register his century of dot-balls for the innings. But when play resumed, and moments after Pietersen's departure, Trott undid all his good work by slapping Mohammad Amir straight to Azhar Ali in the gully. It was the type of catch that's been going down for Pakistan all summer. But this time it stuck, and England were officially on the skids.

Delivery of the day
After a hefty workload and concerns about his fitness following a bout of dehydration in the first innings, Amir was used sparingly by Pakistan today, with only two overs in the whole of the afternoon session. It meant that when he finally returned, for a sensational burst after tea, he was buzzing with energy and gagging to make up for lost time. Ever since his exploits against Australia at Headingley, he has been earning comparisons with Wasim Akram, and his delivery to deceive England's form batsman, Matt Prior, was straight out of the great man's repertoire. Round the wicket, searing pace, full length and late swing, and just grazing the edge as a flat-footed Prior prodded in vain.

Deja vu of the day
From 194 for 3 after 61 overs at tea, England plummeted to 221 for 9 in 15 of the highest-octane overs imaginable, as Ajmal and Amir combined in a spin and swing onslaught to rival Mushtaq and Waqar at Lord's 18 years ago. But then, with the ground pulsating and England clinging on for dear life, the umpires pulled the plug in light that was fading but far from unplayable. It was a monstrous anticlimax and incredibly frustrating for all but the home dressing room - and the Surrey officials who might have been sweating on refunds for an early finish tomorrow. But it was strangely apposite timing. Four years ago on this very day, Pakistan had refused to come out after tea in protest at Darrell Hair's umpiring. Had they done so, on this evidence, they could have won the game within an hour.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

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