ABU DHABI // This is the Test that refuses to reveal its hand. England have been shading it from the start and ended the third day firmly on top. But late resistance from Pakistan again meant the day left the conclusion of the Test dangling.
Stuart Broad and Monty Panesar were the central figures at a festive and lively Zayed Cricket Stadium. Broad’s punchy ninth Test fifty took away the momentum Pakistan had surged towards in the last half hour on Thursday, and Panesar spun the afternoon open with three wickets to leave Pakistan in serious strife.
The hosts had a contribution to the shift, dropping two chances in the first overs which, more than the numerical damage, changed the morning’s mood. Broad, told by a Pakistani taxi driver the previous night that his team would be “destroyed”, took full toll, swinging a few early boundaries before settling down to an eminently sensible knock.
“Looking at how difficult it looked to defend against the pressure of the quick-turning ball, my best option was to try and manoeuvre the field and counter-punch,” he said. “Once I hit a couple of boundaries everyone moved out and I could pick up ones and twos.”
During his stay, Pakistan’s hopes of a slim lead evaporated and, at 70 runs, transformed into not just a considerable deficit. Panesar made sure of it, coming on as early as the fifth over and settling down into a long, rhythmical, almost hypnotic spell.
He began landing the ball immediately on just the right length and with the ball still new, spun it considerably. Both Mohammad Hafeez and Younis Khan were bowled by the classic left-arm spinner’s dismissal, looping deliveries drifting towards middle and leg, spinning away to take off.
Those two – and Taufeeq Umar’s dismissal by Graeme Swann, also bowled – meant the Test was well on its way to having the most dismissals without the assistance of a fielder: 26 is the record, and there have been 20 already.
“Monty bowled really well,” Broad said. “The different angles has been important with their right-handed batsmen because he can trap them on the crease and get lbws. He’s built with confidence through the Test. He was nervous the first day but today he grew and grew.”
But despite Misbah-ul-Haq’s dismissal right after tea, the last session produced an important fightback from Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, young men both, and with a future to build in Pakistan’s middle order.
The pair were cautious and nervy to begin, but visibly grew over the afternoon in an unbroken 71-run stand that took Pakistan’s lead to 55.
They will have to bat deeper into today to give Pakistan a sniff, though Azhar, unbeaten on 46, was confident they could. “However many we can get is better,” he said.
“You have to bat hard to score runs, that’s what we did. If we give them 150-160 we hope that we can win. We are very confident.”
The surface was at its flattest yesterday and no one is sure whether it will deteriorate further, but the new ball, as Broad pointed out, could be vital in what he called an “amazing” Test so far.
“I keep thinking when I leave the ground at the end of the day that tomorrow’s a huge day, that tomorrow evening I will know what the result will be,” he said.
“I keep getting to the end of the day and I’m no clearer. It really can go either way. The first hour is going to be a holding hour and both teams will be trying to get into the day and then with the new ball. That’ll be a massive hour.”