Pakistan v England, 3rd Test, Dubai, 3rd day February 5, 2012

England face tough task after Azhar Ali marathon


Stumps England 141 and 36 for 0 (Strauss 19*, Cook 15*) need 288 runs to beat Pakistan 99 and 365 (Azhar 157, Younis 127, Panesar 5-124)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

A monumental innings by Azhar Ali, a dutiful and occasionally becalmed affair spanning nearly nine hours, has left England requiring a daunting 324 for victory in the third Test. Azhar's highest first-class score, 157 from 442 balls, was an impressive feat of patience and skill and presented England with a final batting examination against Pakistan's spinners, a task they have flunked throughout the series.

England at least survived their initial reconnaissance. There were few devils in the 20 overs up to the close, although Alastair Cook was badly dropped in Umar Gul's second over by Taufeeq Umar at third slip. Pakistan also lost a review after Mohammad Hafeez's lbw appeal against Andrew Strauss was turned down.

For much of the third day, this was a drowsy Dubai Sunday. When the Test suddenly sprung into life before tea, with England's spinners taking the last seven wickets for 34 runs in 22.2 overs, England did not know whether to laugh or cry. As the ball began to turn and spit on a worn, dry surface, each wicket felt like the harbinger of the batting challenges to come.

Without Azhar's marathon effort, England might have had realistic ambitions of salvaging a consolation victory. Graeme Swann, who dropped him low down at first slip on 84 off James Anderson, will have felt more disconsolate than most. Azhar finally fell to Swann at short leg. Cook has stood there throughout the series without so much as a sniff, but he held a low catch to end an innings that had pronounced Azhar as a young batsman of high calibre.

Younis Khan added only 12 to his overnight 115 before he fell lbw to the deserving Stuart Broad, but Azhar followed up Younis' hundred with one of his own. He resumed on 75 and pressed on doggedly. His first boundary of the morning, a delicate sweep against Graeme Swann took him to 98 before he unleashed a resounding square cut against Monty Panesar to reach his second Test century.

As the lead crept ahead, so did the lbws. Five Pakistan batsmen fell to leg before decisions, four to Panesar. That took the total to 41 in the series and counting. It is a record for a three-Test series and only two below the overall record.

Panesar finished with another five wickets, aching limbs and his reputation rebuilt . Much of the afternoon had been a stalemate as Panesar persevered into the rough outside Misbah-ul-Haq's leg stump, and Misbah appeared immovable. England tossed away their second review in desperation as Misbah survived Panesar's lbw appeal by virtue of a thin inside edge. But he fell that way eventually, as he has five times in the series, his own review failing to spare him.

Panesar then prospered. Asad Shafiq was lbw on the back leg, sweeping, and Adnan Akmal was bowled for nought by one that turned. Panesar's celebrations, once so excitable, are now so strangely matter-of-fact that perhaps it is time to take a look in the doctor's medical bag.

When Swann removed Abdur Rehman and Saeed Ajmal courtesy of slip catches by James Anderson - the second one a cracking effort, a steer to his right from Ajmal that he anticipated brilliantly - it brought Swann rare satisfaction and served only to deepen England's sense of foreboding.

It has been a tough series for Swann. He has a great career record against Pakistan left-handers, but there are only two of them in this series and Taufeeq has often been dismissed before he has come on. Swann has been largely overshadowed as he has remained loyal to the methods that have served him well, flight and a line outside off stump, while other spinners have bowled straighter and quicker in a rewarding search for lbws.

Pakistan were threatening to defy cricket history. No side in 105 years has won after making fewer than 100 in the first innings of a Test, a feat last achieved by England against South Africa at Headingley in 1907.

Even that achievement required assistance from the elements. Colin Blythe, the revered Kent left-arm spinner, loved nothing better than a wet pitch and he took 15 wickets as Leeds drizzled loyally upon him. There was little point in Panesar and Swann gazing to the heavens in the hope of a sudden downpour, not in these parts.

Early in the day, umpire Steve Davis' lbw decision against Younis was upheld on review, but it was the most marginal of calls, as was Kevin Pietersen's on the opening day, and emphasised that the umpires in this series have been emboldened by DRS into giving borderline decisions that they might normally have turned down. The umpires' margin of error that is built into DRS meant that on both occasions the umpire would have been right whatever he ruled. Both Younis and Pietersen were adjudged to be out when Hawk-Eye predicted that the ball would have shaved the stumps so lightly that the bail might not even have fallen. The umpires have all become outers.

The best umpires throughout the years tended before the advent of DRS to allow a small margin of error in favour of the batsman, judging that a not-out decision was the safest if there was an element of doubt. Hawk-Eye has not only removed that doubt, and the inbuilt margin of error, intended to protect the umpire's authority, has meant in this series that batsmen have, in effect, defended bigger stumps - taller by the width of a ball, and wider by the width of a ball on both stumps. It is a concern, but it is no reason to abandon the system.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cricket on February 6, 2012, 9:04 GMT

    Micheal Atherton said during his commentary that Pak have improved thieir Batting, bowling and ground fielding, BUT CATCHING HAS NOT IMPROVED AT ALL. it has not changed a bit. HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. PAK NEEDS A FIELDING COACH.

  • Cricket on February 6, 2012, 8:36 GMT

    Micheal Atherton said during his commentary that Pak have improved thieir Batting, bowling and ground fielding, but catching has not remained the same. it has not changed a bit. HE IS ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. PAK NEEDS A FIELDING COACH.

  • Shahid on February 6, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    What you think ? Who will win this match , Tough contest , Both teams are equally good in bowling department but not good in batting , Pakistani Team is not very consistent and England is not good to play spin bowling.Let see what happens but I think today is decider day.

  • lawrence on February 6, 2012, 8:12 GMT

    Look at the averages of both batsmen and bowlers at lunch on 4th day

  • Muhammad on February 6, 2012, 8:11 GMT

    Great stuff by Azhar and Younis....Truly Test cricket at its best..-....this series has been one of the best doesnt matter if the results are one-sided...The fight that both teams have shown is awesome...i hope it is a great match!!!! Test Cricket: True test of Grit and patience for 5 whole days!!! i would rather choose this over a t20 or odi any day!!!!

  • Cricket on February 6, 2012, 8:10 GMT

    Pak back to their old catching ways. 2 chances each by Taufee, Adnan, Gul. All were dollies. Eng would take them 10/10.

  • navaid on February 6, 2012, 7:56 GMT

    I do not know why Akmal brothers are always in so much hurry. When Kamran and Umer bating they try to make shot on one ball and when they keep, try to stump or through with out the grasping the ball. Most of the time they keep appeal for nothing. Someone get them understand and inject some patient.

  • navaid on February 6, 2012, 7:34 GMT

    Pakistan lost so many matches by their fielding and its look like to happen again. There is no cure except you have to put lot of hard work. Generally teams do let off catches, but when its come Pakistan they are very generous, when they give changes they give in large number. That is why Pak bowlers try to get wickets by bowled or LBW. I hope that despite the worst fielding side they will mange to win.

  • Tahir on February 6, 2012, 6:14 GMT

    If they bat whole of fourth day then it is pretty much england winning.

  • Dummy4 on February 6, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    they have taken the tiniest of iota of life out of the pitch... its dead flat now. heavy rollers..!!! Very long tiring day ahead for bowlers.

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