Dubai, third Test, day three

England have not yet lost. It’s more of a cruelty than anything else, however. Pakistan collapsed abruptly to some sharp spin in the evening session to leave England a very improbable target of 324 to win. England made it to stumps on 36-0.

The highlight of the day, the match, and maybe the series, was Azhar Ali. He scored a fantastic 150, the highest individual score of the series and a fantastic demonstration of how to bat on a pitch like this. He seldom took any undue risks, but scored when he had the opportunity to do so and rotated the strike well. It took over nine hours and demonstrated the utmost maturity and patience of which we have seen too little in Test cricket recently. It was an innings of Cook-esque brilliance and without it England’s target would be looking a lot more gettable. It may well be that he has hit a match winning knock for his country in a match and series were almost all of the batsman have failed and he thoroughly deserves every bit of praise he gets.

Pakistan lost their last seven wickets for only 34 runs and lost them to some sharp spin from Monty (who bagged another five-fer) and Swann, so I don’t think England will score another 288 runs and win the Test. Stranger things have happened, of course, and our batting did look a bit better in the first innings, but it is unlikely. England need a good foundation from this pair, but I fear they will need to put on about 200 to make England favourites as it’s not uncommon for a team for team to get off to a good start in a run chase and then collapse to a big defeat. (England chasing 400+ at Lord’s in 2005 is a good example.) For England to win the match they will have to bat out of their skins on a pitch that is now turning sharply. They won’t quite need their highest score in the series, which is 327, but they will need someone to step up and score a century in the same way that Ali did for Pakistan. It is a batting order which we know can score runs and if they manage to knock these off it will be a famous victory. By definition, however, famous victories are quite rare; more likely is that they will get close enough to make us optimistic and then lose anyway. Like I said: it’s cruel.

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