An enthralling finish is all set-up in Multan after an England collapse followed by a Pakistan fightback led to all four results being possible going into day four.
The day began with England 202 for five with a lead of 281. A hundred further runs for England would have taken the game out of sight for Pakistan and all but assured an historic series win for the tourists. But a limp collapse saw England lose their final five wickets for 19 runs and set Pakistan 354 to win. A sizable total, but not an insurmountable one.
But whilst England had a poor morning, Harry Brook did not. Resuming this morning on 74, he reached his second Test century in a career that is only three matches old. Brook batted with an unspoken dominance. Elegant on his feet to the spinners and brutal on the pull to the seamers. He is only in the team as a result of an injury to Jonny Bairstow and whilst his runs may provide England a selection headache in the short-term, they are cause for real excitement in the long, with all evidence from the 23-year-old’s blossoming career suggesting he is the real deal.
But still, England would not have had any thought of nerves until the lunch break which arrived with Pakistan 64 for none having batted assuredly on a pitch that seemed to be improving rather than deteriorating. For the first time since late on day two, an England victory no longer seemed an inevitability.
However, the day would swing back to England in the early afternoon thanks to a phenomenal triple-breakthrough from their seamers, as a wicket apiece for James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood would reduce Pakistan from 66 for none to 83 for three.
Each wicket was as impressive as the last. First, the ageless Anderson produced a timeless delivery that shaped in before seaming viciously away to clip Mohammad Rizwan’s off-stump. Rizwan looked on in a state of shock that his teammates Babar Azam and Abdullah Shafique were about to experience themselves.
Babar, Pakistan’s key wicket, left a ball from Robinson that seamed back in and crashed into the stumps. It was the second time in the match that Robinson had clean bowled Babar and the Pakistan skipper looked back at his stumps in bewilderment.
Wood would then make it three clean bowls in a row with his delivery simply too fast for the obdurate Shafique even with the right-handed opener well set on 45. It was three moments of magic from England with Anderson, Robinson and Wood performing as if they were England cricket’s Harry, Ron and Hermionie. In the space of an hour, the three of them had put England in the box seat to secure victory.
But in keeping with the theme of the day, the match would swing once more as Saud Shakeel, who has been fantastically impressive in his debut series, and Imam-ul-Haq dragged Pakistan back from the brink and once again into contention. Imam hadn’t opened the batting due to a hamstring concern, but coming in at No.5 after a quick trip to the hospital, he showed no signs of his ailment as he targeted the spin of Jack Leach, who went to 100 Test wickets yesterday, and regularly drove him over the top.
Both batters would bring up half-centuries, Shakeel’s being his third of the series and his career having batted just four times in Test cricket in total. Imam’s being his second of the series and a recovery from his two-ball duck in the first innings.
Both batters would offer chances, however. First, Shakeel was dropped at short-leg by Brook in what would have been a phenomenal reaction catch had it stuck. Whilst Imam offered up a more routine chance to WIll Jacks, firing back a sharp caught-and-bowled opportunity to the offspinner that he would have expected to take, as evidenced by the wild kick he aimed at the ground in frustration after the chance went amiss.
But just as the partnership ticked over 100 and Pakistan crossed the halfway mark of the total required, England would make the breakthrough they so desperately needed. Leach getting Imam, who had looked so comfortable against the left-armer to edge to Joe Root at slip.
England roared in celebration and the day would be over not long after. 157 runs required for Pakistan. Six wickets needed for England. It’s anyone’s game.