Azhar hundred leaves daunting chase
Azhar Ali’s second Test century made Pakistan favourites to secure a 3-0 series whitewash over England despite Monty Panesar’s five-wicket haul at Dubai.
The designated hosts began the day on 222 for two - 180 runs ahead and looking to build a substantial lead.
Younus Khan and Azhar, resuming on 115 and 75 respectively, set about that early on before Stuart Broad - who again bowled brilliantly, albeit with little reward - accounted for the former.
Azhar, who enjoyed some good fortune on 84 when Graeme Swann shelled a difficult slip catch off James Anderson, brought up his second Test ton, off 319 balls, to swing the momentum back in Pakistan’s favour.
That moment came during a half-century stand with skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, who fell for 31 to herald an England riposte which deserved huge praise given the circumstances.
Immediately before Misbah’s dismissal, Pakistan were sitting pretty on 331 for three - a lead of 289 - which perhaps underlines the impressive nature of England’s comeback.
That turnaround of seven wickets for 34 runs was led by Panesar, who secured a 10th Test five-for, while Graeme Swann chipped in with 3-101.
Despite their best efforts, England still faced a daunting victory target of 324 on a pitch just starting to offer serious turn.
In response, the tourists reached 36 without loss from 20 overs, with Andrew Strauss on 19 and Alastair Cook - who was dropped by Taufeeq Umar at slip - on 15.
Younus initially looked imperious this morning, while his partner was typically solid.
Although Broad was finding movement, it was not too long before Younus brought up the 200 partnership courtesy of a lovely drive through cover - which yielded three runs.
Younus then gave a further indication of his form when a similar shot heralded the day’s first boundary, though England almost had a breakthrough soon after.
A full-pitched Anderson delivery found Azhar's edge, but Swann was unable to take a low chance at second slip.
England were rewarded for their endeavour in the next over, though, as Broad trapped Younus leg before. The batsman, out for 127, unsuccessfully reviewed the decision. Replays showed the ball only just clipping the top of off-stump.
After the drinks break England set about cranking up the pressure, but Azhar and Misbah were looking typically reserved, mixing good defence with the odd run.
The former did break the shackles, however, fine-sweeping Panesar for four before bringing up his hundred with an authoritative cut through cover off the same bowler.
Despite the accumulation of runs seeming slow, the fifty partnership came just prior to lunch, perhaps fittingly via well-run two after Azhar had clipped part-time off-spinner Kevin Pietersen to leg.
Panesar rapping Misbah on the pad sparked a loud leg-before appeal after lunch and England lost their last review when replays showed an inside edge after umpire Steve Davis had correctly given it not out.
Two quick boundaries, sweeps by both batsmen, seemed to signal a change of intent, with Azhar then producing the shot of the day when, skipping down the track, he planted Swann through cover for another four.
Panesar gave England a rare reason to smile just after drinks, though, trapping Misbah in front. The batsman reviewed umpire Simon Taufel’s decision, but it was upheld.
The left-arm spinner was in on the act again soon after, this time Asad Shafiq falling lbw playing an ill-judged sweep shot, before Azhar struck an emphatic boundary down the ground to take the lead past 300.
But there was no stopping Panesar, who bowled Adnan Akmal with a delivery that pitched on middle stump and hit the top of off - the level of turn undoubtedly exciting Pakistan more than England.
That brought Abdur Rehman to the crease and Swann, bowling to his favoured left-handers, soon broke through as he found the edge, Anderson doing the rest at slip.
The off-spinner repeated the trick against Saeed Ajmal but, just after tea, Azhar brought up his 150 - off 431 balls - with a single before moving past his best first-class score of 153 not out courtesy of a slog-swept four.
However, he did not get many more, inside-edging Swann to Cook at short-leg before Panesar trapped Umar Gul in front to dismiss Pakistan for 365.
England made a good start to their chase as Cook profited from a short-and-wide Aizaz Cheema delivery to find the point boundary.
Cook enjoyed a reprieve in the next over on four as Taufeeq dropped a simple catch at third slip after Gul found the edge.
Strauss was looking more decisive at the other end, epitomised by an emphatic cut through cover point, which came prior to a period where runs dried up.
The lull was interrupted by excitement as Mohammad Hafeez hit Strauss’ pad, with Pakistan wasting a review which upheld Davis’ not-out verdict due to the ball hitting the left-hander outside the line of off stump.
England’s openers batted through the final 20 minutes fairly comfortably, leaving themselves needing a further 288 runs to seal an unlikely victory.