ALASTAIR COOK may have caused a stir with his surprise decision to spare Pakistan the follow-on - but England remain on course for a comfortable series-levelling victory at Old Trafford.
England needed less than 40 overs on day three of the second Investec Test to dismantle the remainder of Pakistan’s first innings, from 57-4 to 198 all out.
Cook then spurned the fast-track to a likely innings win, with a mammoth lead of 391 in the bag.
Bad weather took out 27 of the scheduled 90 overs, but Cook still had time to consolidate the domination in a stumps total of 98-1 which ensures Pakistan already face a notional world-record victory target.
Consternation is hardly yet rife that the hosts might have shot themselves in the foot by going into bat again, but hindsight will doubtless be damning if they are somehow not able to convert overwhelming mid-match superiority into a 1-1 scoreline before Tuesday evening.
Only two captains, since the end of the timeless Test era, have declined the follow-on option with bigger leads at their disposal - and each time Australia did not have cause for regret on their way to crushing wins in the whitewash Ashes series of 2006-07 and 2013-14.
There was no compelling reason for Cook’s conservatism - although Misbah-ul-Haq’s hard-working 108-ball 50, and some belated support from Wahab Riaz, did hold England up after the tourists had descended to 119-8 at lunch.
Misbah (52) proved what might have been possible for his colleagues too as the ninth wicket realised the innings’ first and only half-century stand.
In the end, it required Moeen Ali to see off the captain - caught mis-sweeping to his opposite number at short fine-leg.
England’s seamers had, however, done the bulk of the damage both the previous evening and under much cloud cover on Sunday - Chris Woakes faring best with 4-67.
Cook gave his regular new-ball pair first crack at making further inroads, and James Anderson and Stuart Broad each struck once in an extended morning session which was interrupted for an hour by forecast rain.
Shan Masood had stood firm for 24 overs but failed to last a further five on the resumption before Anderson was rewarded for a fine spell with a wicket as the opener pushed out in back-foot defence and edged to Joe Root at second slip.
After the weather closed in briefly for the first time to give England their early breather, Broad was in the wickets.
Asad Shafiq appeared to have his mind on starting a counter-attack but merely squirted a square-drive at a slower off-cutter straight into the hands of point.
Four middle-order batsmen either side of Misbah had mustered only 10 runs between them.
Sarfraz Ahmed, like Shafiq, was soon predictably intent on altering the tempo and had a little more success - greeting the reintroduction of Woakes with two fours in an opening over which cost 11.
Misbah took 47 balls to hit his first four - a square-drive off Anderson - and contrasting tactics helped the total into three figures.
Sarfraz edged Ben Stokes in defence, though, for Root to add a third catch to his career-best 254 in England’s 589-8 declared.
The ball appeared magnetised to the Yorkshireman at second slip, and from what became the last ball of the session Yasir Shah edged another one to him there - safely held off Woakes.
Wahab mixed in some bucolic tail-end shots in a partnership of 60, and remained defiant with a Test-best 39 even after his captain was gone.
The deficit was therefore reduced to under 400 before Moeen had Wahab caught going for another big hit into the leg-side deep.
Between the late-afternoon and evening showers, Cook and Alex Hales then had limited opportunity for worthwhile progress.
Hales was a late casualty - caught-behind to a Mohammad Amir inswinger - but Cook moved smartly to within a single of his half-century in a second innings which had to be started four times in 21 overs.