England allowed Asad Shafiq to set the tone as his and Younus Khan’s centuries edged Pakistan in front on day two of the fourth Investec Test at The Oval.
Shafiq (109) was one of three Pakistan batsmen dropped by England before lunch, his perhaps the toughest of the chances – put down by James Anderson at third slip while on seven.
The diminutive batsman took advantage to underpin Pakistan’s stumps total of 340-6, a lead of 12, principally in a fourth-wicket stand of 150 alongside back-to-form veteran Younus (101no).
Pakistan, who trail 2-1 in the series, appeared on course for a more telling advantage until late in the day, when the previously unfortunate Chris Woakes made good use of the second new ball.
Previously, it had been a groundhog sequence of events – England’s shoddy catching matching Pakistan’s on day one, when their mistakes included a reprieve on nine for home centurion Moeen Ali.
In glorious batting conditions, England mustered one wicket in each of the first two sessions – nightwatchman Yasir Shah and then Azhar Ali.
Yasir kept England’s seamers at bay through the first hour, interspersing a series of often comical scrapes with some handy shots.
It was getting beyond a joke for the hosts when Alex Hales scuppered Woakes’s party trick of taking a wicket in his first over, by dropping a straightforward chance at gully.
But Hales, seething after being dismissed cheaply to a low catch claimed by Yasir on the first morning and fined 15 per cent of his match fee in the aftermath, was bailed out when Steven Finn had the nightwatchman edging to a juggling yet safe Joe Root at second slip.
Woakes’s luck was still out, Shafiq escaping as Anderson could not hold the sharp catch away to his right. England then concluded their faulty morning when Finn put down a return chance from Azhar’s straight-drive on 35, as Pakistan jockeyed an advantageous position on a very good surface under near cloudless skies.
It was not until England happened upon Hotspot evidence demonstrating Azhar had gloved a sweep off Moeen, one short of his 50, that they broke the third-wicket stand on 75.
The hosts appeared more interested in a second bite at an lbw appeal – but the ball also looped into Jonny Bairstow’s hands, and third umpire Joel Wilson gave Azhar out caught-behind.
Shafiq was unperturbed. Owing Pakistan runs after his pair in the defeat at Edgbaston last week which put England 2-1 up with just this match to play, he appeared throughout in consummate control.
There was an air of authority about him, and style too from the moment he opened his account mid-morning with a cover-drive on the up off Finn for four from the third ball he faced.
It took him 164 deliveries to reach three figures for the ninth time in his Test career – with 12 fours and two sixes, both over long on off Moeen, en route.
By then Younus had posted his first 50 of the series.
For England, there was no hiding place as the Pakistan pair took charge for 36 overs – in which there was plenty of reason for the hosts to ponder those missed opportunities.
There was a hint of near desperation too when Moeen went to DRS to try to win an lbw with a delivery which turned but hit only Younus’s bat, when he had made 47.
It took a special moment to break the partnership, Shafiq climbing into a pull off Finn only to be brilliantly caught by Stuart Broad at mid-wicket.
Woakes proved his stamina as well as skill deep into the evening session, Hales doing the decent thing at gully this time when Misbah-ul-Haq failed to cover the extra bounce.
Then debutant Iftikhar Ahmed miscalculated with an attempted pull at Woakes and was well caught by Moeen, running back at mid on.
There was time before stumps, though, for Younus to complete a 32nd Test hundred from 139 balls.
England assistant coach Paul Farbrace admitted: “Missed chances have been an issue for us.
“If we’re serious about being No 1 in the world, we have to catch our catches.
“But there’s a lot of honesty in the team, and that helps with things we need to put right.”