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August 7, 2006
An opening stand of 158 between Strauss and Marcus Trescothick appeared to have put England in a position to dictate how long Pakistan would have left to bat in the final innings. But for the first time in the series none of Nos. 3 to 6 contributed and it took a gutsy maiden Test half-century from Chris Read to push the lead past 300.
However, the volume of runs and pace of scoring has probably clouded some judgments. Not many sides chase over 300 to win a Test - and even fewer at Leeds. Pakistan need more than they have ever managed to win a Test and it would be the second-highest run-chase at Headingley, with only the Australia's 404 for 3 in 1948 ahead of them. In Pakistan's favour are the figures from the other successful 300-plus run chase on this ground, when England beat the Australians in 2001. On that occasion the target was 315 and the home side reached it in 73.2 overs. Suddenly, time is not the major factor.
Yesterday, the stand of 363 between Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan was followed by a rush of wickets and once Trescothick had been removed midway through the afternoon session, Pakistan's bowlers gained a foothold. Danish Kaneria finally gained top-order wickets when it mattered, rather than waiting for the dregs at the end, and won a fascinating duel with Kevin Pietersen. Mohammad Sami produced his best spell of the series, removing Strauss and Ian Bell either side of tea as the ball started to reverse swing, Shahid Nazir chipped in with a fine late burst, and the new ball wrapped up the innings effectively.
Strauss's innings confirmed the importance of a batsman cashing in, but he survived a perilously close lbw appeal in Kaneria's first over. That was really his only alarm as 16 boundaries were threaded through both sides of the field. The covers were peppered, as was midwicket against the spinner, and his hundred came off 153 balls, the tenth of his career, to join his previous ton of the series at Lord's.
His opening partner, Trescothick, reached his first fifty of the series after gaining two lives courtesy of the struggling Kamran Akmal. He dropped Trescothick on 6 and 7 - the second the most regulation of thin edges off Umar Gul - and if either had been taken the pressure would have been very different. When he was eventually well caught at second slip it was the first time an England batsman had failed to convert a fifty into a century in the series, but importantly it had given the team some breathing space. They would be glad of it.
There has been plenty of chirp between Pietersen and the Pakistanis in this match and it continued during his brief innings until, on this occasion, Kaneria had the final say. Sami then fired himself up, breaking the back of England's batting either side of tea, and with the ball reverse swinging the second-string pacemen had something to work with.
As in the first innings Read started with an inside-edge past his stumps and soon lost the last-recognised batsman when Paul Collingwood dragged on. But Read has been bullish throughout the match and his counter-attacking was just what the situation needed. Most of the tail didn't manage to support him for very long and it was the last-man Panesar at the crease when he brought up a highly significant half-century with a pull through midwicket.
Pakistan's bowlers stuck at their task throughout the day, showing the same fighting qualities that have hauled their team back into this match over the last two-and-a-half days. However, although it wouldn't have been in England's gameplan to be bowled out in the day it has opened up their best chance of forcing the victory that would seal the series. There are plenty of tickets available for the final day so if you're in the area head down to Headingley. It could be a cracker.
Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of CricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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