Pakistan v England, 1st Test, Dubai, 2nd day January 18, 2012

England's perseverance overcomes conditions

With little pace, little turn, little bounce and little chance of any reverse-swing, England's bowlers had to dry up runs to take wickets, and their patience went some way in making up for the first day's batting failure

With ten minutes of play remaining and just five wickets down, it looked as if England were facing the prospect of a daunting first-innings deficit in Dubai. Pakistan's lead was approaching 100 and their increasingly talismanic captain, Misbah-ul-Haq, was still at the crease. England's hopes of retaining a foothold in this Test were slipping away.

Two late wickets, however, brought England back into the game. The loss of Misbah, in particular, exposes a fragile looking tail and raises the prospect that Pakistan's lead, which at one time looked as if it could be crushing, might now be little more than useful.

It was no more than England deserved. On a pitch that offered them little, they probed and pressed until, finally, Pakistan buckled. Every one of the attack could feel well satisfied with their day's work.

It was a day that spoke volumes for the spirit and character within the England dressing-room. A weaker team might have lacked the patience or discipline to sustain the plan of attack England required. A weaker team might have allowed itself to become divided after their batsmen let them down so badly on the first day. But then a weaker team probably would not have recovered from the positions England clawed back against Australia in Brisbane and against India at Trent Bridge, and ended last year as the No. 1 ranked team in Test cricket.

Make no mistake: Pakistan are still in the stronger position. The largely self-inflicted damage England suffered on the first day may prove too serious to recover from, and a lead of 96 with power to add is not to be underestimated. Yet, when Pakistan look back on the second day, they will surely reflect that they squandered a wonderful opportunity to put this game beyond England's reach. Indeed, it is just possible that Pakistan have surrendered their best opportunity of winning the series.

Perhaps words such as 'squandered' and 'surrendered' are unfair. Pakistan were not, for the most part, remotely careless. They were just worn down by England's disciplined bowling. On an absorbing day of Test cricket, England earned wickets through persistence, intelligence and skill.

This is not the sort of pitch where bowlers can expect to run through a side. There is little pace, little turn, little bounce and, because of the small square and relatively grassy outfield maintaining the shine on both sides of the ball, little chance of any reverse-swing.

Instead England had to apply pressure. They had to dry up Pakistan's run scoring opportunities and wait for mistakes. They had to ensure that, even if Pakistan were going to grind out a big total, it would take them as long as possible to achieve it.

The attack responded admirably. None of the fast bowlers conceded more than 2.76 an over, with Stuart Broad producing an admirably mature performance and Jonathan Trott's mean spell before the second new ball, which claimed Younis Khan as his third Test wicket, a huge bonus. Chris Tremlett cut down his pace and probed away on off stump, while James Anderson showed that he is not just reliant on a swinging ball to fulfil a useful role for England.

Graeme Swann, lacking the doosra that makes Saeed Ajaml such a dangerous bowler, instead gave the ball more flight and bowled a line wider of off stump than Ajmal. His figures stand no comparison, but Swann's performance was not much less impressive. Put simply, Ajmal had the substantial advantage of bowling to batsmen who appeared hapless against spin.

There were several occasions when it appeared Pakistan were on the brink of establishing a match-defining platform. Each time, however, England were rewarded for their perseverance with a crucial wicket. Pakistan were only 78 behind with all ten wickets in hand when Broad produced a beauty to dismiss Taufeeq Umar, while the wickets of Mohammad Hafeez, with a century at his mercy, and Younis, who was batting with an easy class that promised great things, also came just as Pakistan were re-establishing their dominance.

Then, with the close beckoning, Swann spun one back to defeat Misbah's forward prod. Until that moment Misbah, patience personified, had appeared as unforgiving as the desert that surrounds this ground and just as tricky to dislodge. With the captain gone, England struck again: Abdur Rehman was defeated by a beauty that nipped back from James Anderson. England were just about back in the game.

"We're still in a good position," Hafeez said afterwards, sounding as if he were trying to convince himself as much as anyone else. "We were expecting a few more runs - we're a bit down on what we were expecting - but we are still happy. We are in control of the game and, with two spinners in our side, we are in a happy position. It is the nature of this pitch to turn more as the game wears on."

Indeed it is. But with Pakistan batting last, Hafeez's words could comfort England just as much as Pakistan.

England were both delighted and relieved. "We batted really badly," Broad said, "but one of the strengths of this team is that we are forward looking. We try to learn from our mistakes but we don't dwell on the past. We knew it would be tough today. We're chasing the game a bit so it was a really good bowling performance. We wanted to concede fewer than three runs an over and hopefully we can polish them off for another 20 or 30 tomorrow. Now the batsmen need to score big hundreds and put the wrongs right. It won't be easy chasing anything over 200."

Perhaps not. But, so far in this match, the players who have succeeded are the ones who have utilised the old-fashioned virtues of playing straight, bowling straight and showing patience. This Test could well be decided by which team can maintain those skills under pressure on the final three days.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo