It was Test cricket at its best as fluctuating fortunes left the third Test between Pakistan and England posied for an exciting finish after day four on Saturday, with the home team fighting hard to take command from fears of defeat.
Pakistan had an upper hand at tea with England leading by only 159 runs but the last session belonged to the home team — 414-5 — swelling their lead to 311 with gusty half-centuries by Joe Root (62), Jonny Bairstow (82 not out ) and Moeen Ali (60 not out) to thwart the visitors’ bowling.
England captain Alistair Cook is not known for bold declaration so it won’t be a surprise if England continue to bat on Sunday.
That leaves the Test to explode if Pakistan collapses as the best chase at Edgbaston is 283-5 by South Africa in 2008 and the next best is 211 by England against New Zealand some 17 years ago.
Misbah-ul-Haq was great as captain with slick field placings and bowling plans, one that frustrated Root and Gary Ballance (28) but in the end a not so helpfful pitch undid all his efforts.
When England began the fourth day Cook and Alex Hales (54) were in good nick and the home team needed some quick runs to set up a declaration, although many believed Cook would not do that on Saturday.
It was Yasir Shah who proved how one good piece of fielding can lift the spirits as the nimble footed held a brilliant low catch at point to send Cook back in the fourth over of the day by Sohail Khan.
Next over Mohammad Amir forced an edge off Hales to give Pakistan two key wickets with no run off nine balls.
At 172-2 Rahat Ali’s hard work of continuously trying to entice Root to play a drive outside the off stump went waste as an edge flew to Hafeez at first slip who didn’t come forward to take it and instead grassed it.
That was the first fielding blemish in the match by an otherwise tentative Pakistan.
Pakistan tried everything to dislodge the partnership and in those attempts Yasir changed ends and came round the wicket with a short fine-leg fielder. Root finally obliged by trying to sweep one out of the rough and was caught by Hafeez.
That ended Pakistan’s wait and a 95-run steady partnership.
Pakistan made further inriads when they took the second new ball after 82.3 overs as Amir struck instantly — his first with a shinning cherry — to find a slip fielding practice edge off Vince to Younis in the second slip.
It could prove Vince’s undoing from Test cricket, once again no better than his best of 42 made at Lord’s. Ballanace was also a victim of Yasir as the leg-spinner bowled from around the wicket and the edge was again held at leg-slip.
Bairstow and Ali upped the scoring rate as (350 from 300) 50 were made in just 57 balls, giving some real hope to their team through their unbroken 132-run stand.
Pakistan now must strive to save the Test on Sunday.