Abu Dhabi, day three

For the third time in a row England have had the better day, but for the third time in a row it has been close enough that the match is still very much up for grabs. England batted with more positive intent this morning than they have in the entire series so far, and though they rode their luck at times they finally managed to put the Pakistani bowlers and fieldsmen under a bit of pressure. Prior was out early (LBW for three, after being amazingly dropped on two), and whilst Bell managed to hang on and dig in against the spinners he was undone by a very good ball from Gul. Stuart Broad, however, played with an incredible fluency given how much the proper batsmen had struggled. Part of this was the pressure being off of him, but with England desperately needing lower order runs it cannot have been completely absent. It is not the first time he has rescued the batsmen (Trent Bridge last summer and Lord’s the year before each spring to mind) and I think he has to be considered an all-rounder now. It isn’t fair to call him a bowler who can bat a bit (as Cricinfo did before the lunch interval) as that implies someone like Graeme Swann or Peter Siddle. With respect to those players, Broad is a much better batsman than either of them and whilst I do not like relying on him for runs it can be done. With his four wickets in the first innings and unbeaten 58 he has to be an early favourite for Man of the Match, especially if England win.

Overall I think this was the best of the three days for England. They did not get as many in the morning as they probably would have liked (Bell especially will be disappointed to get out, even if there was not a lot he could have done) they still got a very handy lead of 70. They also did so quickly; they scored 116 runs in the Morning session, the most by one team in a session all series. (The previous best was Pakistan’s 104 runs in the afternoon session of the first day of this Test.) That lead of 70 was about what many were predicting before the start of play and whilst it isn’t a match sealing lead it is enough to put Pakistan under pressure. Given the low scoring nature of the match it is probably equivalent to a lead of 100 or more in more normal conditions. The biggest boost to England was the four wickets that they took before Pakistan had reached parity, however. There was even a time, after Misbah-ul-Haq was out that it looked possible that England could shoot them out today. That didn’t pan out, but England clamped down on the scoring so effectively that Pakistan still only lead by 55, even after a partnership that lasted almost the entire evening session. The run rate for Pakistan’s second innings is only 2.04 and it was below two for most of the innings.

Pakistan’s fifth wicket partnership of 71 is the only thing that kept England from running away with the day, and indeed the Test. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, with only 32 Tests between them, batted superbly well to see out the day and keep Pakistani hopes alive. They are the last major pair for Pakistan and the pressure was firmly on them when they came out still 16 runs in arrears. I thought that England could certainly get one or both of them before the close. England certainly do not need to feel anxious for a wicket yet, however. The lead is only 55 and there is very little batting to come. Pakistan probably still want another 100 runs at an absolute minimum and with the difficulty new batsmen have had on this pitch, and Pakistan’s tail in general, have had one would think that this pair need to put on about another fifty. They could do it, but it would take an incredible effort and probably a touch of fortune. This situation (and the ten overs or so before close) is where a fifth bowler would be very useful for England. It’s unlikely, but perhaps a combination of this partnership and Morgan’s repeated failures will give Strauss and Flower cause for reconsideration of the balance of the side.

There is a decent chance that the match will end tomorrow. If England keep the deficit manageable they will have enough time to knock the runs off, but if Pakistan get a big lead (or even if they don’t) there will also be enough time for England to collapse before stumps. After our batting performance in the first innings (327 all out, only 11 shy of the highest innings total of the admittedly short series) I think there’s some much needed confidence in the England dressing room and I don’t think we will have another shocker (even on a wearing pitch against Ajmal), but it is possible. I think the only way the match will go into a fifth day is if Pakistan get another 150+ or so tomorrow and England properly dig in to have a go at chasing the runs. My guess is that England will win it early tomorrow evening, but the way the Test and series has gone so far I would not want to put money on anything just yet.

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