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Magnificent Moeen punishes Pakistan for lapses

Pakistan 3 for 1 (Azhar 0*, Yasir 0*) trail England 328 (Moeen 108, Bairstow 55, Sohail 5-68) by 325 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Moeen Ali once again demonstrated the power that resides in England's allrounder-laden middle order as he stroked his way to a brilliant counterattacking 108 - his third Test hundred and his second match-defining score in as many innings - to rescue his side from a familiar top-order collapse in the fourth Investec Test.

By the close of the opening day's play at the Kia Oval, England had seized control of a contest that could yet propel them to the top of the world Test rankings, if results elsewhere go their way. Left with three overs in which to go for broke before the close, Stuart Broad prised out Pakistan's most obdurate find of the tour, Sami Aslam, lbw for 3, as England inched closer to their coveted clean sweep of series wins against all Test opponents.

But, with Wahab Riaz back in the Pakistan side and restored to the fire-breathing hostility that had secured the spoils in the last Test series between these sides before Christmas, they had been required once again to take the scenic route to the ascendancy.

The first delivery of Moeen's innings summed up the challenge that England faced shortly after lunch, as he arrived at the crease to join Jonny Bairstow with his side floundering on 110 for 5 after winning the toss under overcast skies, and on a livid green pitch that looked more threatening than it actually turned out to be.

Wahab - with three wickets, one drop and a no-ball reprieve already to his name in the first eight-and-a-half overs of a typically vigorous onslaught - greeted the incoming Moeen with a scorching bouncer that tailed into the left-hander and sconed him so hard on the badge of his helmet that it rebounded clean into the hands of backward point.

Pakistan, at this stage, were swarming as only they can when that whiff of cordite hits their nostrils. But Moeen's refusal to be flustered is a trademark of his game, and in the course of two vital and urgently-paced stands - 93 for the sixth wicket with Bairstow and 79 with England's man of the moment, Chris Woakes - he first shored up the foundations of England's innings before taking the game away in the final session from a tiring Pakistan attack.

Sohail Khan once again emerged as Pakistan's stand-out wicket-taker, with 5 for 68 in 20.4 toiling overs, but Pakistan's fielders were unable to match the application of their bowlers. Mohammad Amir proved especially luckless in his best spell since his return to Test cricket as a genuine opportunity to roll England aside inside two sessions hit the turf with a thud.

Despite the excellence of their contributions, both Moeen and Bairstow were the beneficiaries of key reprieves early in their innings that Pakistan will be sure to rue as this contest develops. On 13, and without having added to his lunchtime score, Bairstow poked flimsily at another exocet outside off stump and lobbed a simple catch to Yasir Shah at backward point.

Wahab's celebrations, however, were cut short by umpire Marais Erasmus's outstretched arm - and the bowler could have no complaint. He had been warned after the first ball of the over that he was getting close to transgressing, then called for both of his subsequent deliveries, the second of which was the vital one.

Bairstow, whose 83 at Edgbaston had arguably been the defining knock of that contest, instantly bunted a four through the covers to rub salt in Wahab's wounds, and set about ensuring that Pakistan would be made to pay for his let-off.

It wasn't just Wahab whom the pair had to overcome. At the other end, Amir was locating that prodigious late swing that made him such a threat in his first coming as a Test cricketer, and on 23, he rapped Bairstow on the back pad with a fierce late inswinger that Pakistan felt obliged to review - the ball was shown to be slipping over the top of off stump.

Then, on 9, came the key let-off, as Azhar Ali at third slip made a Horlicks of a low edge off Amir that hit him on the wrists. A similar juggled opportunity had earlier been good enough to send Gary Ballance on his way for 8, but this one refused to stick, as did another technical chance at the hands of the same fielder six runs later, although only a harsh judge could criticise Azhar for this one - a firm clip off the pads against Yasir that struck him on the chest at short leg but rebounded out of his reach.

But as the session progressed, England's confidence grew, and with it the urgency in their run-harvesting. Bairstow's exemplary judgment of a quick single means that his stands are rarely anything less than hyper-charged, and with tea approaching, the pair were reprising their game-changing efforts in the second innings at Edgbaston.

Moeen clipped the debutant Iftikhar Ahmed over midwicket for the first six of the innings, then rolled his wrists on a pull through midwicket four balls later to join his team-mate on fifty, and though Bairstow fell soon afterwards for 55, dangling his bat outside the line to inside-edge Amir through to the wicketkeeper, the arrival of Woakes offered Pakistan no let-up.

With an England-record 23 wickets in a Test series against Pakistan, Woakes would be having the time of his life with or without any extra strings to his bow. Throw in his sublime form with the bat, however, and you end up with an allrounder with the form and confidence for any situation. With his cover-drive in preposterously good order, he cashed in on Wahab's angle across his bows to breeze along to 45 from 57 balls, before feathering a thin edge to give Sohail and Pakistan a late chance to get their way back on track.

Sohail did his best to oblige, extracting a marginal lbw against Stuart Broad for 0 before bowling Steven Finn through the gate for 8 to give Moeen a nervy few minutes as he biffed his way through the nineties with only James Anderson for company. But, having flashed a four past a baffled Younis Khan at slip, he took a premeditated swipe for six over deep midwicket off Yasir, to complete his century and cement England's revival.

Though he fell soon afterwards for 108, caught at square leg to complete Sohail's five-for, Moeen's personal contribution had all but doubled England's halfway innings total.

There had been little in the day's opening exchanges to hint at the ebb and flow to come, with Alex Hales' contentious early dismissal at square leg appearing to come against the run of play, given the fluency of Alastair Cook and Joe Root's initial strokeplay. Hales, on 6, clipped firmly to Yasir at square leg, who scooped a low chance that umpire Oxenford referred upstairs for a second opinion. His initial instinct was that it carried, but the incident happened so quickly that none of the TV cameras could keep up with the blur of action, so the decision stood.

England, however, had reckoned against the determination of Wahab to make an impact on the series. After entering the attack in the 12th over, he should have struck with his 13th ball, when Iftikhar shelled a low edge at first slip off Cook - ironically the same position in which Mohammad Hafeez, the man whom he had replaced, had been standing when he gave Root a crucial reprieve at Edgbaston last week.

For once, Cook failed to make that sort of a let-off pay. He had added just one more run when he leant back on a pull against Sohail and under-edged into his own stumps. One over later, Root, whose stunning double-century at Old Trafford has been bookended by a cluster of limp dismissals, was suckered by Wahab's extra pace and lift to tickle an edge through to Sarfraz Ahmed.

In Wahab's next over, he made it a collapse of 3 for 5 in 15 balls when the under-pressure James Vince was detonated from the crease by a fierce lifter that forced a defensive back-foot poke to give Sarfraz his second catch of the morning. At that stage, the contest was ripe for the seizing. But Moeen and his middle-order cohorts had other plans.