At the end of a dizzying second day in Multan, like a city that seems to be in perpetual rapid motion, it is England who will sleep the best. After crossing Pakistan before lunch, the confident half-centuries of Ben Duckett and Harry Brook mean their grip on proceedings is now vice-like.
Not even the ongoing fairy tale of Abrar Ahmed’s debut – the mystery spinner taking his wicket reserve to 10 for the game – could brighten things up for the hosts. After conspiring for 202 all in response to England’s 281 on day one and then seeing the tourists close on 202 for five and thus a 281 lead, Babar Azam’s side know that to reconcile the series with one to play, they need the highest score in the game.
Once Duckett fell on Abrar for the second time in the game, a long leap from the mysterious spinner staying low to start the opener for 79, it was Brook who guided England to the finish. The Yorkshireman shrugged off the loss to Ollie Pope for a wild run with a dominant but controlled display in the crease, walking away in the end unbeaten on 74 balls from 108 with Ben Stokes at his side.
On a largely one-sided day, the pivotal moment had actually come early when, amid the morning mist, Babar had his zing bails lit by Ollie Robinson on the 75 to spark a ruinous eight-for-60 slump in 28.3 overs. . It gave England a precious 79 run lead in the first set from which they barely looked back.
Ignored by his captain the night before, Robinson’s second delivery of the game caught everyone by surprise when she swung inside the Pakistani captain’s ambitious drive. Tongue out and arms outstretched in celebration, the 29-year-old had once again demonstrated his budding skills with the older ball, it’s his sixth wicket in the series and his fifth past the 30-year mark.
Robinson’s five-over burst then sucked Pakistan’s ambition almost instantly, their relative cruise to 142 four-plus points stopped in its tracks as a collective state of anxiety descended. That said, Stokes deserves credit here, rethinking his plans overnight, giving Jack Leach some extra protection from the slog sweep and seeing the left-arm spinner profit from the resulting indecision.
Leach struck the ball twice after being thrown over the top, the first of which, Saud Shakeel caught superbly by Jimmy Anderson for a compact 63, raising his 100th wicket on his 31st Test. What followed summed up Pakistan’s unease instead, with Mohammad Rizwan taking 28 balls to clear the mark and then being knocked down on the back foot by a ball that sped past his twisting kick to the leg.
Subsequently, Pakistan began giving gifts to its guests. Mohammad Nawaz pierced Leach halfway and Joe Root struck twice in an over, Agha Salman inducing a collective crowd sound no different from his first name as he chipped mid-wicket and Mohammad Ali edged Zak Crawley to slide through his pad.
Mark Wood then wrapped up the innings with his first Test wickets since March, hitting Zahid Mahmood’s front pad with a missile and closing a last-wicket stand of 23 between Abrar and Faheem Ashraf when the latter went down with a flick extravagant. Wood, who was never shy about smiling, could barely hide his joy at Pakistan’s latest push of the self-destruct button.
Not that England was entirely resistant to envy itself. Crawley ran away in the fourth of the afternoon – Abrar diving from the middle – and Will Jacks, promoted to No 3 to allow Pope time off the field, was beaten for four by the debutant attempting a ambitious slogan.
But Duckett quickly settled the initial nerves in the away dressing room, his 68-ball half-century setting the tone for England as a whole as they held back a fraction of the previous day’s exploits and opted for a more nuanced approach and ruthless. Not even the loss of Root due to a good hold at the short stage for 21, nor the rapid disappearance of Pope, changed the general tenor of the proceedings.