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November 22, 2005
Pakistan's firm grip on this Test match slackened on the third day at Faisalabad, thanks to centuries from Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen - and their own sloppy fielding. England closed on 391 for 7 largely owing to the centurions but also aided by an elegant, classy knock from Geraint Jones. Had they held their catches, Pakistan would now almost certainly be on their way to victory.
In contrast to yesterday's dramatic events, it was a day of proper Test cricket; one of fluctuating fortunes, of dropped catches and of steady progress by the batsman.
Despite falling just before tea for 115 attempting to cut Shahid Afridi, Bell played a fine, solid innings of great maturity at a time when England were in a sticky situation. He was only selected for the previous Test owing to Michael Vaughan's injured knee; talk about taking your chances.
But it was Pakistan who failed to take theirs in the morning session. Kamran Akmal should have stumped Bell in the second over of the day and then Mohammad Yousuf, not a natural at slip, missed the most straightforward of chances. There were others too; Danish Kaneria, who bowled beautifully early on and had Bell in all sorts of difficulty, dropped a clanger off Pietersen at mid-off. Catches win matches - and these drops are hurting Pakistan.
Bell's calm and sensible innings was the perfect foil to Pietersen's boundary-laden hundred. Pietersen couldn't buy a run before this Test and yet stormed through the eighties and nineties with a procession of outrageous sixes and fours, before swatting Shoaib Akhtar for yet another six over midwicket to reach his hundred.
Pietersen's attacking instincts got the better of him however. Recklessly, his attempt to repeat the same shot caused his downfall the next ball and he departed for precisely 100. Credit must go to Akhtar who, having been blasted for six, still had the courage to bounce the batsman. After receiving criticism about his commitment before this series, Akhtar has answered with immense heart, passion and fire - with the odd sly slower ball for variety.
One wicket so often brings two, and Andrew Flintoff never looked settled - his lack of foot movement contributed to missing an exocet from Shoaib which clattered into his middle stump. Bell, though, remained solid, calm and unfazed throughout - until his tired cut found the bottom edge. Jones's wonderful cameo of 55 from 86 balls included eight crunching boundaries although his partner, Ashley Giles, was unsettled by Afridi who bowled with great skill throughout the day. As attacking with the ball as he is with a bat, Afridi bowled straight into the patch of rough which he helped create yesterday when he purposefully scuffed up the pitch. He bowls at a much quicker pace than the batsmen expect - on several occasions Giles was fortunate to get his bat down in time.
Kaneria too bowled with great guile, and appears to increase in confidence with every match - although he became the second Pakistan player to be warned for trespassing on a length. He was never quite the same though after being warned.
Excellent day though England had, they still remain 71 runs adrift and the tail can quickly fold. Pakistan need just three quick wickets tomorrow morning to wrap up the innings and, as Shoaib is keen to remind us, he has the firepower to end England's hopes in a hurry.
How they were out
How they were outResuming on 113 for 3
Kevin Pietersen c Yousuf b Akhtar 100 (261 for 4)
Mistimed slog to wide mid-on
Andrew Flintoff b Akhtar 1 (272 for 5)
Missed a straight one, undone by pace
Ian Bell c Akmal b Afridi 115 (327 for 6)
Bottom-edged attempted cut
Geraint Jones lbw b Afridi 55 (378 for 7)
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