England’s prospects of batting out time to save the Dubai Test, and retain their chances of winning the series, were already diminishing by tea on the fourth day. In their first 17 overs, faced by an unassailable 491 for victory, they lost the openers Alastair Cook and Moeen Ali to a Pakistan attack with the scent of victory.
With more than four-and-a-half sessions to bat to save the game, the last thing England wanted was the sight of Cook limping badly, something that was obvious to everybody, it seemed, except the medical staff who insisted he was fine. That Cook’s mobility was severely compromised was obvious every time he broke into a pained trot and Yasir Shah removed him in his second over, drawing a sweep at a ball that turned from the rough, resulting in a catch at deep backward square by Wahab Riaz, one of three fielders stationed for that eventuality.
Moeen had already gone, falling to a shot that might have been designed to question further his fitness for a Test opener’s role, a foot-fast slash at a wide one from Imran Khan which flew to second slip and left the batsman stooping in self-recrimination. Imran indulged in lots of “me, me, me” chest pointing and soon afterwards pounded with equal conviction down the middle of the pitch, a transgression which brought an official warning.
The morning belonged to Younis Khan. No Pakistan cricketer relishes their inability to play Tests in their own country, but Younis, more than anyone, has made the UAE a beneficial second home. Ten of his 31 Test hundreds have come in the Gulf states, the latest against England in Dubai as Pakistan’s batsmen continued to pound them into the ground.
He fell for 118, swinging Adil Rashid lustily to leg whereupon Moeen sprinted 25 yards to hold a skied top-edge behind the bowler. It was a rare moment of pleasure for England’s two spinners who had only two wickets to show for their efforts – both in the final slog – and who played second fiddle to England’s hard-pressed pace attack for long periods.
By the time Pakistan declared half-an-hour into the fourth afternoon, their lead was 490 – 132 runs added in the day – England’s requirement already comfortably in excess of the record 418 successfully pursued by West Indies against Australia in Antigua in 2003.
In their favour, the pitch remained sedate, and Yasir felt unwell and had skipped morning nets. Yasir’s legspin was one of Pakistan’s chief weapons, especially with the left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar so far looking relatively innocuous. England could only hope that he would tire quickly.
Even allowing for Yasir’s need for recovery time, Pakistan’s caution in the first hour did seem slightly disproportionate. With a lead of 358 to sustain them – already more than England had ever chased down in the fourth innings – little could go awry. But there were two days remaining, not a semblance of rain around and Younis, with time on his hands, had a century on his mind.
So, too, did Misbah, but for the second time in the match he did not add to his overnight score. Perhaps he is not someone who leans happily into a bright, new day. He was already the oldest player to score two centuries in a Test but he was not about to enhance his own record. Anderson slipped in a slower ball and he slotted it straight to his rival captain, Cook, at mid-off.
England’s pace bowlers were a bit moody. On a slowing, wearing, fourth-day pitch where they might have hoped the spinners would be all over Pakistan, they were still doing their stuff. Anderson had a tiny collision with Asad Shafiq and Stokes, his mood not helped by a tweaked ankle, was all Marmite temper, his savoury mood congealing over another blazing day. Appropriately so, as England were toast.
By the time he reached the 90s, Younis was settled enough to toy with the bowlers, goading Stuart Broad by changing his position at the crease. Splayed legged and square on, he worked Broad through square leg to 98 then cut Rashid to reach his century in the next over.
Misbah, sat regally on the dressing room balcony behind a pedestal fan, seemed inclined to let Shafiq try for a century, too. A glove-carrier came out presumably with a message to tell him how much time he had but he was still 21 runs short when Moeen had him lbw, a review failing to save him. Misbah stretched, slowly rose to his feet to prepare for the work ahead, and called them in.