England 328 and 88 for 4 (Bairstow 14*, Ballance 4*, Yasir 3-15) trail Pakistan 542 (Younis 218, Shafiq 109) by 126 runs
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Live scorecard and ball-by-ball details
At the age of 38, and in the final Test of a tour in which most sage judges feared that his imperious talents were beginning to fade, Younis Khan rolled back the years in stunning fashion on the third day at the Kia Oval, crushing England's ambitions of another come-from-behind victory with a brilliant and match-defining 218.
By the close, England - who had still harboured realistic expectations at the start of an enthralling day's play, given the greater strength in depth of their batting line-up - were instead bracing themselves for the prospect of another bruising defeat in the capital. Twin losses at Lord's and The Oval in the 2015 Ashes were followed by last month's first-Test defeat to Pakistan, who are now closing in on what would be one of the most highly acclaimed 2-2 draws to have been sealed in south London since England's own comeback against West Indies in 1991.
Nothing can be predicted in a Pakistan Test match except unpredictability itself, especially with the twin architects of last week's third-Test revival at Edgbaston, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, yet to be implicated in England's latest collapse.
Nevertheless, with Yasir Shah emerging from his mid-series slump with three massive breakthroughs, including the key scalp of Joe Root for 39, and with Wahab Riaz once again showing the value of extreme speed in blasting Alastair Cook from the crease for 7 with his third delivery of the innings, England limped to the close on 88 for 4, still 126 runs from asking their passionately focused opponents from batting again.
This is how Pakistan operate, in bursts of unanswerable brilliance, but for all the harrying skill that Yasir in particular demonstrated as the shadows lengthened in the evening session, it was the events before tea that ripped this contest from England's grasp.
With 31 fours and four belligerent sixes off the spin of Moeen, Younis soared past his previous series haul of 122 runs in three Tests with a supreme 218 from 308 balls - including 90 from exactly 100 deliveries in conjunction with Wahab and Mohammad Amir, two members of a Pakistan tail that had proven so wafer-thin in their losses at Old Trafford and Edgbaston.
On Younis's watch, Pakistan transformed a slender overnight advantage of 12 into a formidable lead of 214, and until James Anderson finally crowbarred an lbw decision from Marais Erasmus with ten minutes of the afternoon session remaining, England had looked bereft of ideas on a pitch that, as Wahab and Yasir would later demonstrate, was unquestionably offering more life than Pakistan's formidable first-innings total of 542 seemed to suggest.
Having played second fiddle to a typically pugnacious cameo of 44 from 78 balls from Sarfraz Ahmed in the morning session, Younis took command of both the scoring and the strike as the afternoon wore on, adding 37 in 11.3 overs with Wahab, who made 4 from 32 balls, then 97 in 20.3 with the steadfast Amir, who waited 23 balls to get off the mark as he helped his senior partner power through to his sixth Test double-hundred, before joining the celebrations three balls later by lashing Moeen over deep midwicket for the most unexpected six of the day.
When Pakistan's last man, Sohail Khan, holed out to mid-on on the stroke of tea, Amir was the last man standing, unbeaten on a career-best 39 not out from 70 balls, his initial caution having given way to a florid range of strokes that ramped England's frustrations up to boiling point.
But Younis's magnificence transcended everything else. He had begun the day on 101 not out, his confidence restored after a torrid series, and while Sarfraz dominated their morning partnership of 77, he bided his time, ensured his eye was fully in, then climbed into a tiring and tetchy England attack with a breathtaking shift of his gears.
Having waited 13 balls to add to his overnight total, and with a handful of cherry-picked boundaries to keep his innings ticking along, the first real indication that Younis was set to produce a masterpiece came in the final over before lunch. Moeen was thrown the ball for an exploratory over of offspin, but Younis lashed him for two fours in three balls - a crushing drive through the covers and a rubber-wristed sweep past backward square - to go to the break on 147 not out.
Soon after the resumption, he passed 150 for the 12th time in his formidable Test career, with a full-throated pull through square leg off Stuart Broad, then repeated the trick in Broad's next over as the long-suffering Moeen at fine leg receiving a tongue-lashing from the bowler for failing to cut off the boundary.
England's mood worsened before could improve, as Cook shelled England's fourth catch of the innings as Wahab poked outside off to Moeen, only for the opportunity to burst through his fingers at slip. Though Wahab fell two balls later without addition - slightly fortuitously stumped off Bairstow's gloves as the ball deflected back into the stumps - the arrival of Amir was Younis's cue to go into overdrive.
The score at that stage was 434 for 8, the lead a healthy but still potentially precarious 106 - only three runs more, in fact, than the deficit that England had overcome at Edgbaston last week. But with a qualified faith in his team-mate's durability, Younis took it upon himself to farm the strike as best he could, seeking to limit Amir to one or two balls per over, while cashing in at the business end of each over.
While he picked a brace of boundaries off the quietly fuming Broad - a calculated edge through gully and a sumptuous full-faced four through the covers - it was Moeen, inevitably, who bore the brunt of Younis's aggression. Cook kept faith in his offspinner's ability to wheedle out important wickets - Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq have both fallen twice to him in the series to date - but Younis treated his offerings with contempt, battering him for three massive sixes in the space of five overs, the last of which - high and mighty over wide long-on - brought up his double-hundred, from 281 balls.
It was, genuinely, a chanceless performance. Younis's only real moment of alarm had come on 133, with 15 minutes to go until lunch, when Pakistan's lead had stood at a relatively manageable 75. Steven Finn, who finished with 3 for 110 in another quietly encouraging display, rapped Younis on the pads as he hopped into line in front of middle and extracted a raised finger from umpire Bruce Oxenford. However, replays showed that the ball was bouncing straight over the top of middle stump and the moment was lost.
And by the close so too, it seemed, was the match. With the onus on batting time, first and foremost, the stage appeared set for another of Cook's masterful rearguards - it was on this ground, in the same innings six years ago, that he produced arguably the most important century of his career. But, having lined up the left-arm offerings of Amir with some success, leaving the ball with familiar poise outside off, he had no response when Wahab - in another of his erratic full-throttle moods - followed a first-ball no-ball long hop with a scorching lifter that Cook could only deflect at high velocity to Iftikhar Ahmed at first slip.
Alex Hales, his place under pressure after a disappointing series, and with his conduct under scrutiny too following his contretemps with Yasir in the first innings, resisted as best he could but never looked likely to be England's hero in this contest. Having flirted with danger outside off to the seamers, he fell, with some predictability, to the wiles of Yasir, playing all around a straight one to be pinned lbw for 12.
One over later, Yasir had his second, as James Vince once again found a weak-willed means to leave the crease, drawn into a pretty-looking drive outside off but skewing a dolly straight to Misbah at cover. And though Root once again looked a class apart in reaching 39 from 46 balls - including his 4000th Test run - England's dismal day was complete when Yasir, throttling back his pace to maximise his impact off the pitch, skidded one into his pads to extract another lbw. Gary Ballance and Bairstow clung on to the close but England - not for the first time in recent memory - are finding the final Test of a series strangely difficult to close out.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets @miller_cricket