England reap rewards of game-changing stand
Pakistan have been in this position before. At Sharjah in October 2002, Waqar Younis's men were brushed aside for a pathetic pair of totals - 59 in the first innings, 53 in the second - as Australia rumbled to victory by an innings and 198 runs inside two days. To paint that performance in an even less forgiving light, Matthew Hayden alone would have won by an innings and seven runs, after putting the match beyond reach with a furiously determined 119.
Now at Lord's a similar fate beckons, although the ignominy threatens to be all the more overwhelming, given the grand stage on which this contest is being played out. Pakistan's first-innings 74 was less than half the total racked up by either of England's centurions, Jonathan Trott and Stuart Broad, and at 41 for 4 in an abject second innings, all vestiges of resistance appear to have been squeezed from their game. All told Pakistan have shipped 14 wickets in the space of 48.3 overs - the equivalent of a session-and-a-half. England's eighth-wicket stand alone, by contrast, lasted exactly twice as long.
England's defeat at The Oval seems all the more anomalous after a day like this, but then again, how different would this match have been had Pakistan managed to move in for the kill on that extraordinary second morning? First at 47 for 5, and then at 102 for 7, England's innings - and their series victory - lay on the brink of utter ruin, which means that the subsequent efforts of Trott and Broad were not merely record-breaking but match-transforming - more Laxman and Dravid than Jayasuriya and Mahanama.
"I can't say enough about that partnership between Trotty and Broady, that's what has got us in this position," admitted Graeme Swann, who was the chief beneficiary with five wickets for 18 runs, spread across two innings, in the space of nine overs after tea. "At lunchtime yesterday [Friday], the Pakistan top four would all have been mentally rehearsing batting, and the fact they were still doing that six hours later has got to have a very negative effect on them. When wickets are tumbling as they have all summer it can be very hard to stop the rot."
Regardless of the surrender in the Pakistan ranks, it was a thrilling onslaught from England nonetheless. Whereas the atmospheric conditions could be blamed for their previous capitulations at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, this meltdown owed everything to scoreboard pressure, battered morale, and an up-and-at-'em attitude from a pack of England bowlers who scented blood and stormed in for a clean kill.
James Anderson conceded 16 runs in 15 of the most waspish overs imaginable, backing up the impression that he now knows how to contain as well as attack, and while Swann and Steven Finn scalped seven wickets inside an hour after tea, it was Broad with his dander up who was the most influential member of the attack in those crucial early stages, as he huffed and puffed on a full and furious length, and reprised the big bad wolf role that routed Australia so memorably in the final Test of the 2009 Ashes. Three top-four wickets for 19 in ten overs was the net result - there wasn't time for him to go any better than that.
For the third time in four Tests this series, an English victory now seems pre-ordained with more than a day of the match to spare, and the speed with which Pakistan boarded their team bus and fled to their team hotel in Swiss Cottage - without even loitering to speak to Sky's TV cameras - summed up the extent to which they've mentally checked out of this contest. Not even Mohammad Yousuf, who fell twice in 23 balls and at times seemed lucky to do that well, could arrest the slide towards ignominy.
"To get them four-down at the close definitely puts us in the box seat," said Swann, with the sort of understatement that is rarely his preserve. "But tomorrow it will be harder to get the wickets. The sun will be out in the morning, a few of their guys will have a night to sleep on it and mentally prepare to bat, and as it showed this morning, it's a very nice place to bat when the sun's out."
Few would care to share Swann's cautious assessment of the contest, however. At some stage on Sunday, the Sharjah rout seems certain to have found a new bedfellow. And possibly the most peculiar Test series of recent times will have come to a fittingly baffling conclusion.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.