How quickly fortunes have changed in this series.
Pakistan won the first Test by 75 runs but slumped to a whooping 330-run defeat in the second, looking down and were feared to be out of the series.
But here at Edgbaston after day two on Thursday, the visitors looked in good shape and at 257-3 they now trail England’s first innings of 297 by a mere 40 runs with England dismissing Azhar off the last ball of the day for 139.
It was the pace of Sohail Khan which led the way on day one. The following day it was the patience of opener Sami Aslam (82) and back-in-form Azhar who guided Pakistan through their 181-run stand for the second wicket.
Azhar batted for 239 balls for 383 minutes studded with 15 fours and a six. Younis Khan was batting on 21.
Fortunes not only changed in bowling and batting but also in fielding as Pakistan grabbed all eight chances that came their way, England squandered a crucial when Joe Root failed to grab on while Moeen Ali also dropped Azhar off his own bowling.
Mohammad Hafeez, though, spoil the occasion of his 50th Test with a silly shot off only the fourth ball of the innings, giving a straightforward catch at point off James Anderson. It seems Hafeez also needs to have a lab test on his batting action besides the twice questioned and illegal bowling style.
It was also contrasting fortunes for Azhar and Aslam. Azhar had two chances while Aslam did nothing wrong and yet missed a hundred. Azhar’s came off 209 balls with ten fours and a six when he took an evasive action to glance a rising Stuart Broad delivery to long-leg boundary.
More than the awkward shot Azhar’s push-ups must have irked England.
Sami, only 20, impressed with his patience and the knack of leaving the ball than playing them. It was ironical why he was discarded after just two Tests last year as he showed qualities of a reliable opener.
He played 176 balls compared to Shan Masood’s 177 for his 71 in four innings, showing the kind of patience needed at this level, sweeping Moeen Ali for his fifth boundary to brought up his maiden half-century. Aslam hit nine boundaries and a six in his impressive knock, suggesting he has a bright future ahead of him.
Azhar on the other hand looked to have overcome his falling down after not pointing his left toe towards mid-off. His runs were very much needed as 39 in the last four innings were a poor reflection of his enormous talent.
Azhar was lucky to get a reprieve from an otherwise dependable Root who grassed him in the first over after lunch off a luckless James Anderson. But he then settled and drove Steven Finn to covers for three to complete a well-deserved half-century off 129 balls.
England bowlers toiled hard and added to their lack of penetration they were indignant on every time umpire asking them to stay away from the danger area.
It was only on a wrong call by Azhar that England could dislodge Aslam soon after tea. James Vince threw down the stumps as Aslam fell a yard outside the batting end.
If Pakistan can get a lead of around 150 or more they can fancy their chances for another lead in the four-match series but for that the visitors have to shrug off the tag of being unpredictable as they are known for big collaposes and spurn good positions.