England believe they are still in a promising position to push for a series-levelling victory in the second Test against Pakistan despite losing three late wickets yesterday to Saeed Ajmal.
Alastair Cook (94) was the first of three frontline batsmen to fall to the off-spinner, for the addition of only nine runs, as England closed day two on 207-5.
They nonetheless still appeared well-placed to eke out a first-innings lead – one which would be invaluable when it comes to batting last on a pitch already favouring spin.
Cook lamented the late twist in the tale.
But he insisted England more than shaded the exchanges, having taken three Pakistani wickets for just one run in the morning and then reached 166-1 on the back of a century stand between himself and Jonathan Trott (74).
“I wouldn’t say we’ve thrown it away,” said the steadfast opener.
“We’re only 50 behind, and we’ve got Belly (Ian Bell) and Matt Prior – excellent players – at the crease, and our lower order did well in the first Test in Dubai.
“In the absolutely ideal world, we’d be sitting here with two or three down.
“But credit to the way Pakistan bowled in that last half-hour, and made it extremely tough.”
Ajmal (3-67) had to wait until the 25th over he bowled to add to the 10 wickets he took last week, but he provided a stern test throughout.
Cook added: “We’ve had a good day. Obviously, the last half-hour turned it from a very good day to just a good one.
“For 99 per cent we did it really well. The last few minutes didn’t go quite to plan.”
Cook and Trott excelled with powers of concentration, but even they never looked entirely in control.
“In sub-continent conditions, you never get to 20 very easily,” said England’s mainstay.
“Sometimes in English conditions, you can get to 20 quickly. But here it’s always hard work for the new guy coming in.
“When the partnership gets going, it’s hard to break it. Not that much happens, and you get used to the conditions as a batsman.
“You can get into a groove.”
Ajmal and his two fellow spinners regularly beat the bat even when wickets were not falling.
But Cook said: “I do think I can pick him the majority of the time – 80 per cent. But like any batter, you make mistakes.
“We probably played him better than we did in Dubai.”
Six more runs would have brought the 27-year-old his 20th century, and put him level on England’s all-time list with his mentor and the nation’s batting coach Graham Gooch.
“It’s always frustrating when you’ve worked so hard for a milestone to fall just short of it,” he said.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t get it, because you know it took five hours to get there. But it beats last week, when I got three and five.”
Umar Gul, who bowled only 10 overs to Ajmal’s 29.5 as the seam bowlers played a holding role, was full of praise for a spin attack responsible for all five wickets between them.
“It was very good for batting in the first two sessions,” he said. “But after tea, our world-class spinners got the ball to turn. We’re hoping the wicket plays the same in the morning.”
Cook’s gritty second-wicket stand of 139 with Trott (74) came after captain Andrew Strauss had continued his recent relative lack of productivity with another failure at the top of the order.
Strauss played Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez well enough after Pakistan turned to spin by the sixth over, but he fell bat-pad to the latter due to an off-break which bounced a little more than expected.
England had taken Pakistan’s last three wickets in 15 minutes in the morning to earn the opportunity to hit back after their first-Test hammering last week.
Stuart Broad (4-47) kick-started a run of three wickets for no runs in seven balls when he dismissed Misbah for the addition of just a single to his overnight 83.
Once the Pakistan captain went, lbw in the second over of the day to a ball which nipped back off the seam, James Anderson took over to make short work of the tail.
He was responsible for the last two wickets in the same over, Ajmal lbw pushing forward and Umar Gul fencing a catch to second slip.
Test Match Special will continue live broadcast of England’s cricketing fortunes in all home series until 2019 at least.
BBC and the England and Wales Cricket Board have agreed a new six-year deal which will ensure ball-by-ball radio coverage of international matches.
Two Ashes series and tours by India in 2014 and South Africa in 2017 will be among the highlights of live and exclusive commentary which will encompass all England’s home Test, one-day and Twenty20 internationals.
ECB chief executive David Collier said: “This is excellent news for all cricket-lovers.
“Test Match Special brings cricket into millions of homes in this country each summer and is widely recognised for its unique and world-class coverage of cricket.”