England face test of character - Cook
Alastair Cook has warned his England colleagues that they face a thorough examination of their character if they are to avoid the humiliation of a 3-0 series whitewash against Pakistan.
The teams will resume on day three of the third Test with Pakistan having already built a lead of 180 with eight second-innings wickets in hand. Younis Khan (115 not out) and Azhar Ali (75 not out) have so far added 194 runs for Pakistan's third wicket and, in a low-scoring series in which England's batsmen have posted a total over 200 just once, the tourists will have to produce a much-improved performance to avoid another defeat. Pakistan have already earned an unassailable 2-0 lead in the series.
Cook, perhaps worn down by experience, did not sound full of confidence about the struggle to come, but insisted that England's pride and professionalism would ensure they fought hard to deny Pakistan victory and retain England's position as the top-ranked Test side. If England lose this series 3-0 and South Africa subsequently beat New Zealand by the same margin, then South Africa will leapfrog England for the No. 1 position.
"We all know we're a very long way behind in this game," Cook said. "But if we sit here and say 'well, we've lost this game already' then we might as well give Pakistan victory right now. If we're thinking that in our dressing-room, we might as well just not bother turning up.
"It will take some serious guts to drag ourselves out of this. But there are some bloody good players in that dressing-room, and I hope we can stand up. Anything is possible, but it's going to take a lot of mental toughness to deliver it."
Cook accepted that England's batsmen had endured a grim tour to date - none of the side are averaging as much as 30, while the middle order of Ian Bell, Eoin Morgan and Kevin Pietersen are all averaging under 11 - but admitted that their repeated failures were starting to frustrate the entire squad.
"We have had our struggles on this tour and it is going to take some serious character from the top six to turn it around. I know we've got the players in there. But there's only so many times you can keep saying that - we're going to have to get out there and do it.
"It has been very frustrating, and we haven't played to the standards we know we can. But we never once thought, just because of what happened over the last two years, we'd turn up and wipe the floor with everyone."
Twenty-two wickets fell in the first four sessions of the match but, since then, Younis and Azhar have batted for 72 overs without giving a chance. While Cook accepted that the Pakistan batsmen had played very well, he also felt that the pitch had eased.
"The pitch characteristics have changed. There were less wicket-taking balls around than there were yesterday. It was quite easy to see that.
"But they didn't give us a chance in those last two sessions, and played very well. When they came in, they were still 20 runs behind us - and we had a really good opportunity to take a couple more wickets. If we had got them 50 for 4, we would have been right in the game. But now they have given us a real mountain to climb. We tried a lot of things. But Younis took the attack to us. He was never reckless, but he never let the bowlers settle into any type of rhythm."
Younis agreed that conditions had eased for batsmen, but also said that his anger at his first-innings dismissal had inspired him in the second innings. He also said he expected a tough fight from England over the closing sessions of the series.
"The pitch is much better for batting," he said. "The first day was difficult with the ball seaming around. It seems like a totally different pitch now.
"I was very angry about how I got myself out in the first innings. Seriously angry. So I decided to play more positively and I had a very good partner, who has a fantastic technique and plays according to the situation.
"England tried their best, but we have the edge on them. England have fantastic players and they are No. 1 in the world, so it won't be easy for us. There could be a fightback, but they will need some luck."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo