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Shafiq and Younis centuries put Pakistan into the driving seat

Pakistan 340 for 6 (Younis 101*, Sarfraz 17*) lead England 328 by 12 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

It was across the river Thames, at Lord's last month, where Pakistan's stunning victory in the first Test set the agenda for a series that has proven to be constantly enthralling, if not always as competitive as had initially been promised. But now, on their return to London, a city in which England have found success strangely elusive in recent months, Pakistan fronted up with their most comprehensive day's batting of the tour so far, to give themselves real hope of snatching a 2-2 draw from the fourth and final Test at the Kia Oval.

Thanks to centuries from Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan, plus a gutsy 49 from Azhar Ali and even a bonus 26 in the first hour of the day from the nightwatchman, Yasir Shah, Pakistan confounded their doubters, having resumed on an ominous 3 for 1 overnight, to reach 340 for 6, a lead of 12, at the close of a perfect day for run-harvesting. Their position might have been even stronger but for the efforts of Chris Woakes. He had been let down by his catchers in a messy start to England's day, but got his just deserts shortly before the close, striking twice in five balls after rightfully earning a share of the new ball.

The mainstay of Pakistan's performance was Shafiq, promoted up the order following the indignity of a pair in last week's third Test, who answered the call with a gutsy, patient and hugely accomplished ninth Test century. He picked his strokes with authority, particularly through the covers, and showed admirable resolve in waiting 17 nervy deliveries on 99 before easing a cathartic single past mid-on off the spin of Moeen Ali to reach three figures.

But it was the return of the King that really set Pakistan's innings apart from its flimsy predecessors at Old Trafford and Edgbaston. Just as Misbah-ul-Haq had done at Lord's, so Younis at The Oval provided that stamp of old-stager authority to ensure that Pakistan's hint of a revival during the day's first two sessions had been transformed into real substance by the close. He too endured an anxious time on 99, stuck at the non-striker's end as Woakes's startling bounce accounted for Misbah, caught at gully for 15, and then the debutant Iftikhar Ahmed for an ugly top-edged smear to Moeen at mid-on, one ball after thumping his first runs straight down the ground.

But Younis has seen it all before, and having waited six deliveries, spread across four overs, for the right moment, he nurdled Woakes into the leg side to bring up a masterful 32nd Test hundred, from 139 balls. Like Shafiq before him, Younis settled for a celebratory sajdah but none of the salutes and press-ups that had characterised Pakistan's previous milestones. The time for team-galvanising gestures has long gone. Now it is all about the cricket and the series scoreline, and by the close, he was still in situ, unbeaten on 101 with Sarfraz Ahmed settling in confidently alongside him on 17.

The feature of Younis's innings was that it lacked many features at all. Somehow, through a combination of willpower, hard work in the nets and a greater degree of confidence in the Oval conditions, he had managed to shelve those anxious pogo-stick pushes that had characterised his lack of form earlier in the series, and instead produced an innings that was grounded in every sense.

With every passing delivery, Younis looked more and more like his regal former self - a man with more than 9000 Test runs to his name, including (as the Oval scoreboard was proud to announce shortly before tea) more than 1000 fours and counting. Fifteen of those have come in this innings alone, as well as a mighty swipe into the OCS Stand, as he made it his elder statesman's duty, like Misbah previously in the series, to take the cudgels to England's spinner, Moeen.

For England, it was a day that finished on an uplifting note, and with the new ball still fresh, they will expect to keep Pakistan's lead to the sort of manageable proportions that they achieved at Edgbaston last week. But the first session in particular was a very different story, as three catches went down, one of each of the batsmen to feature at that stage. As England themselves demonstrated in the first innings, when a spate of let-offs allowed Jonny Bairstow and Moeen to engineer their own recovery from 110 for 5, opportunities on this pitch are hard to recreate when they are allowed to go begging.

The first to benefit - though not for long as it turned out - was the nightwatchman, Yasir, who had been the focus of heated attention from England's fielders when play resumed, on account of his disputed catch at square leg to dismiss Alex Hales in England's first innings.

Hales, who had joined Broad in a Twitter conversation at the close of play in which they cast doubt on the dismissal, was seen in animated conversation with Yasir during the opening overs of the day, and so there was no little irony when Hales, of all people, shelled a dolly in the gully as Yasir fenced loosely outside off from the very first ball of Woakes' day. Before he could make the chance count, Steven Finn struck in his second over, finding sharp lift from a tight off-stump line for Joe Root to take a calmly juggled edge at second slip, but he had done his job well, and proven to his team-mates that England were there to be rattled.

Azhar, who had been the silent partner during a bonus stand of 49 for the second wicket, was then joined by Shafiq, who had been slated to come in at No. 3 before Yasir's promotion. And though he got off the mark for the first time since the Old Trafford Test, he too should have been on his way for 7 when Woakes, once again, found some extra lift outside off stump, only for Anderson at third slip to let the chance fizz through his fingers for four.

And, with lunch approaching, Azhar completed the hat-trick of escapes when, on 35, he came forward to another sharp delivery from Finn and looped a tantalising chance straight back at the bowler, who got both hands to the offering but couldn't cling on.

The pair had taken their stand along to 75 when Moeen made the breakthrough, albeit in mildly irregular circumstances. Despite being under pressure throughout the series, he has retained a happy knack of prising out vital wickets, and when Azhar dropped to his knees for a missed sweep, England enthusiastically called for a review. Azhar was found to be out - though not via an lbw, as the ball looped straight up in the air off his gloves. Bairstow behind the stumps had pocketed the chance almost as an afterthought, but the deflection was clear on Hot Spot and England had the breakthrough.

And so, into the fray came Younis, a skittish presence all series long, but visibly more grounded from the outset, as he fought to control the ticks and twitches that had crept into his game in the first three Tests. In particular his flicks off the pads, the cause of several downfalls in the series to date, were performed from a much more stable base, as he kept his balance and made England pay whenever they strayed in line. There was an inevitability about his innings that could only previously have been applied to his impending dismissals, and that was never better showcased than in the manner with which he reached his half-century. During the same passage of play in which Shafiq, on 99, was being tortured by Anderson's drip-drip tactics outside off, he simply leant back and caned the same bowler through backward point for four.

Shafiq's lack of showmanship meant he was well placed to absorb the pressure of the match situation, and it took England's most memorable moment of a poor day in the field to end his vigil on 109. Finn, another man whose efforts hadn't earned the rewards that he might have expected on a different day, banged in a rare long-hop that indicated, perhaps, that his happy old knack for wicket-taking is slowly seeping back into his game. Shafiq rocked into a pull only for Broad at short midwicket to cling onto a blinder with two hands, diving to his left.

He departed with disappointment, but he had more than played his part. Just as at Lord's, where his vital twin contributions of 73 and 49 were overshadowed by a masterful hundred from his captain, so this innings was destined to take second place in his nation's affections. But he won't mind that one bit. As he told ESPNcricinfo recently, "I want to do things very simply and quietly". He certainly did that, and more. And he could yet have set Pakistan up for a remarkable share of the spoils.