If you needed any suggestion as to the lengths England would go in search of wickets on a bland Rawalpindi pitch on day three, you only needed to wait one ball to find out. With the ball in offspinner Joe Root’s hands, he ran up and bowled a bouncer.
After two sessions of dominant Pakistan batting yesterday which had seen them start this morning at 181-0, England claimed the morning session as their own with three wickets to give themselves more than a glimmer of hope of bowling Pakistan out.
The day started with openers Abdullah Shafique on 89 and Imam-ul-Haq on 90 and within the first hour both had brought up their third centuries. For Shafique, 23, it was the third of his career that is just eight Tests into its infancy. Even putting the caveats of this batting friendly wicket aside, Shafique is an outstanding talent and now averages 70.83 in Test cricket. His class evident as he lofted a straight six to take himself to 99 before he pushed a single to bring up three figures. His celebrations were extended and the applause from a growing Rawalpindi crowd warm. Pakistan have a serious player on their hands.
Not long after and Imam would also go to his third Test century, all three of which have come at Rawalpindi. It was a century that meant that all four openers in the match had scored centuries and took Pakistan past 200 without loss.
But from 225-0, the match would shift in England’s favour. Unrelenting in trying out different plans of actions, England would finally make the breakthrough courtesy of Will Jacks who bowled a short-wide-one to Shafique who edged behind to Ollie Pope who took a good catch.
Two balls later and Jacks thought he had Azhar Ali second ball only for the umpire to turn down the appeal as the mood within the ground began to hint at an England revival.
Five overs later and Jack Leach would claim the wicket of Imam for 121. The left-handed batter had been regularly charging and lofting Leach over long-on, but it would prove to be his downfall as he only managed to find the hands of Ollie Robinson who was floating in a deepish mid-on position. All of a sudden England had two new batters at the crease.
One of whom was Pakistan captain Babar Azam. In one of the more bizarre moments of the match, the Pakistan crowd had in fact cheered the dismissal of Imam as it meant their hero would finally arrive at the crease.
Between Azam and his partner Azhar Ali, Pakistan looked to have steadied the ship and taken their side to lunch without further loss. But, in the minutes leading up to the break, Leach would strike once more in the first over with the new ball as he got one to grip and strike Ali on the pad.
It would be a stretch to say that England have a foot in the door, Pakistan are still 298-3 after all, but they have got a toe. And that might be all they need.