3rd Test, Birmingham

England v Pakistan, 2016

At Birmingham, August 3-7. England won by 141 runs. England 4pts. Toss: Pakistan.
As Chris Woakes ran in to deliver the last ball of the second day, Pakistan were ready to make England regret their laxity. Azhar Ali was on strike, 139 to the good, and the scoreboard read 257 for two in reply to 297. The game was at their mercy, maybe even the series. But Azhar's concentration wavered, and a loose drive flew to Cook at first slip. For England, the door creaked ajar. Over the next three days - cautiously at first, then with a flourish - they prised it open. At 5.24 on a final afternoon full of drama, Sohail Khan drove a return catch into the midriff of Moeen Ali, and England were celebrating one of their best wins under Cook.

It was a fitting way to mark their 500th home Test. Lovers of karmic twists noted that the last-day damage was done by reverse swing, the weapon deployed by Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis when Pakistan won in England 24 years earlier. With a grim chuckle, Misbah-ul-Haq said his batsmen had been clueless, especially while Woakes and Finn - restored for the injured Ben Stokes - were claiming four for one in 23 balls before tea. By next morning, as a Pakistan TV channel insinuated ball-tampering, the irony had come full circle. No one could accuse anyone of conforming to stereotype.

The shape of this Test, though, was very much an England-Pakistan classic: slow burner followed by raging inferno. Misbah had invited comparisons with Ricky Ponting by putting England in, but no side batting first had won at Edgbaston since that fabled match in 2005, and Misbah had lost none of the previous nine Tests in which he had chosen to field. As if instinctively grasping all this, his bowlers set about vindicating his decision.

Front and centre was Sohail Khan, a replacement for Wahab Riaz, and Pakistan's first right-arm quick of the summer. His Test record did not demand attention: one for 245 in two games, most recently in 2011. Now, as England slapdashed their way to 158 for five, he picked up four. Hales got a good one that left him, but Root, Vince and Bairstow all committed indiscretions outside off; in between, Rahat Ali removed Cook for 45. Sohail had spent his youth building muscle by hurling rocks down mountains in the old North West Frontier Province. At the close - which he hastened by trapping Anderson - he put his biceps to work once more, punctuating each press-up with a clap of the hands, and taking care of the following morning's back pages.

England were in less playful mood. Only during a sixth-wicket stand of 66 between Ballance and Moeen had their innings settled, and even that was relative. On 70, Ballance tickled Yasir Shah down the leg side, and it needed a sensible approach from Moeen - imagining himself, he said, as Worcestershire's No. 3 - to lift the score towards 300. That evening, Ballance claimed it was a decent total in nibbly conditions. No one was quite buying that, least of all the Pakistanis.

Anderson, it's true, struck with the fourth delivery of the second day, as Mohammad Hafeez slapped a long hop to point, giving him 50 Test wickets against everyone bar Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (only Muttiah Muralitharan could boast all nine). But, between that and Woakes's last-ball heist, England's only succour was the run-out of Sami Aslam, a neat left-handed opener and a happy improvement on Shan Masood. England's struggles could be partly ascribed to the heavy roller and to a slow surface more like Lord's than Manchester - but only partly. Where their batsmen snatched and grasped, Pakistan's played harder to get.

Other than a chance to Root at second slip in the first over after lunch when Azhar had 38, he and Aslam were untroubled. England offered too much width; Pakistan disdained it. This was not a sequence designed to bolster Colin Graves's plans for four-day Tests, but the impasse was absorbing, and England were getting tetchy. Anderson lost his cool after twice being warned for running on the pitch in the 68th over by Bruce Oxenford - a display of petulance for which he later apologised, cannily sidestepping a fine - and Cook barely used Moeen's off-breaks before the 48th over. The game was drifting away.

A direct hit from Vince after a dreadful call for a single from Azhar sent Aslam on his way for 82 - an inglorious end to a stand of 181. But that was merely the prelude to further Pakistani circumspection. Azhar, who had made a 32-ball duck here six years earlier, reached his tenth Test century - and first outside Asia - when he tucked Broad off his hip for four. Under the grumpy gaze of Anderson, he did his press-ups and carried on - only to edge Woakes as stumps beckoned.

On a bright Friday morning, England looked bushy-tailed. Younis Khan's travails continued when Woakes, in his first Test on his county ground, strangled him down the leg side, and Pakistan still trailed by one run when Broad bowled the strokeless Asad Shafiq. As he had done against England in the UAE, however, Misbah blocked the seamers and pursued Moeen; Sarfraz Ahmed followed suit. At 358 for five, Pakistan were pulling clear again. But Anderson bowled Misbah via front boot and back leg, and the last five tumbled for 42 - though not before Anderson was finally removed from the attack by Oxenford. The lead was 103. It ought to have been enough.

Yet, by stumps on day three, England were in credit, their openers intact. Cook became their leading scorer in all formats, passing Kevin Pietersen's 13,779, while Hales reached his only fifty of the series; it was their first century stand for the first wicket, at the 18th attempt. With runs in the bank, Hales felt emboldened to refund a spectator who had tweeted his outrage at England's glacial over-rate: on a day of 81 overs, they managed just 20 between lunch and tea. The 10% shortfall equated to compensation worth £4.10, which the spectator passed on to the Lord's Taverners. Meanwhile, to no one's surprise, the officials found a way of justifying all but one of the nine missing overs.

England resumed next morning 17 in front, but within 20 minutes both openers were gone - Cook driving to point, Hales poking to second slip. Misbah could have attacked, but preferred to grind. Rahat sent down five successive maidens, and had Root dropped at first slip on 25 by Hafeez. Vince resisted temptation. One leave followed another, and a tense session yielded 63 runs. The monasticism ended when Root, on 62, top-edged a sweep off Yasir to short fine leg. Vince, forgetting himself, dangled his bat at Mohammad Amir and the second new ball, and when Ballance moved fatally across his stumps against Yasir for the third time in the series - this time glancing to leg slip - England were five down and 179 ahead.

They had chiselled out 142 runs in two sessions, but Bairstow, scampering furiously, and Moeen now made the Test's first decisive break. An effervescent final session yielded 152: Pakistan's chance had gone. Moeen smashed 19 of the 20 conceded by Yasir in the first over next morning, leaving him with four for 502 since his Lord's ten-for. And, shortly after Bairstow went for 83 - having breezed past Matt Prior's record for an England wicketkeeper of 777 Test runs in a calendar year, with eight games still to go - Cook declared on 445 for six, their highest third-innings total against Pakistan.

The tourists needed 343 in 84 overs, but Hafeez again went carelessly, scooping Broad to long leg, before Aslam and Azhar dug in. At lunch in sunny Birmingham, thoughts turned to a draw. But not England's. A helpful breeze in the direction of the Hollies Stand provided Moeen with the drift to induce an edge to gully by Azhar. And when Anderson replaced the thrifty Broad, the ball began to reverse. Younis edged Anderson to make it 92 for three, but it wasn't until Finn and Woakes joined forces that the innings went into free fall.

Finn picked up his first Test wicket in 430 deliveries when Misbah fiddled at one that straightened, and Shafiq completed a pair when - for the sixth time in the series - Woakes struck in the first over of a new spell. He then winkled out Sarfraz, edging low to second slip, before Aslam shouldered arms to Finn and had his off stump grazed. To Edgbaston's delight, Pakistan were 125 for seven. Yasir and Amir went quickly after tea, extending the collapse to eight for 72, and only some last-wicket frolics took the Test into its final hour. Moeen's caught-and-bowled completed a team effort in which five England bowlers claimed two wickets in an innings for the first time since Delhi in 1981-82. And, having been 1-0 down, Cook's men now led 2-1. They headed for the capital, ready to apply the icing.
Man of the Match: M. M. Ali.

© John Wisden & Co.