England and Pakistan have promised a fight to the finish in the first Test at Rawalpindi, in spite of the turgid nature of the pitch, with both Joe Root
and Abdullah Shafique
insisting that their teams will be pushing for victory over the final two days of the game.
England reached the close on day three with the edge in terms of scoreboard position, leading by 158 runs with three Pakistan wickets still to claim. And following two tough days in the field, they returned to the pavilion with a sense of satisfaction after an excellent final session, in which they claimed four wickets including the key scalp of Babar Azam for 136.
"It was a brilliant day," Root told Sky Sports. "That last session … all the hard work we were putting into it came to fruition really. It was very attritional. We had to be very creative throughout the day, had to try a number of different things, keep searching for wickets, and we got our rewards on the back end from some real hard work."
A notable feature of England's innings was their determination to post attacking fields throughout, with Stokes ringing the changes to keep the batters on their toes, with up to four men around the bat for the spinners, and close catchers in front of the wicket. And as Root admitted, the hunt for breakthroughs had the dual effect of keeping the team's spirits high in adversity.
"That is the most important thing," Root said. "If you feel like you've got no chance it makes it extremely hard, but the way that we stuck to our task, we tried different things, tried to keep it fun and interesting, and I suppose get them to think a bit outside the box as well, and ask questions of what we were trying to do. To be sat here with them so far behind the game, still gives us a really good opportunity to go and win the Test match."
Nevertheless, Pakistan remain very much in the contest after a fine day's batting, in which Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq both completed their centuries in an opening stand of 225.
"Firstly, congratulations to the team England, they have played wonderfully," Shafique told Sky Sports. "To make 506 [in a single day] is a special total from them. We just kept in mind that we have to play well, because the openers set the tone for the rest of the team. And we set a nice partnership there, which gives our side a good confidence as well.
"It was a good day for the Pakistan side because we have played well," he added. "And yeah, we have lost some wickets here. But we are in a good position. In the first two days, the wicket is good to bat on but the ball is spinning now, so we'll get some favour with the wicket in the third and fourth day, so it will be a good contest."
England's first challenge on day four will be to round up Pakistan's tail cheaply, but Root was in no doubt about how their own second innings would pan out, given everything this Test team has achieved already under Stokes' captaincy.
"With our team and the way that we play our cricket now, we'll be making sure we give ourselves a chance of winning the game," he said. "We're not really interested in drawing the match. We want to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance of winning it.
"If Pakistan are good enough to beat us then so be it, but we've got three big wickets to take tomorrow. And then we'll try and crash a few around and get ourselves to a reasonable total, but I'm sure there's still a lot of entertaining cricket to be played in the next couple of days."
Shafique, likewise, knows what's in store, and was adamant that Pakistan are ready to respond in kind when the time comes. "We have also a positive approach about that," he said. "There is no approach of going for the draw, because the way England play, they will play attacking again. It will give us a good total, so we will fight it out."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket