Jonny Bairstow takes control for England to leave Pakistan wilting

• Third Test, day four: England 297 & 414-5; Pakistan 400
• Keeper shares unbeaten partnership of 132 with Moeen Ali

A sparkling, unbroken partnership of 132 between Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali ensured that Alastair Cook would not endure another of his sleepless nights in Birmingham.

England finished a sun-drenched day 311 runs ahead and the next decision awaiting their captain is a nice one, the timing of his declaration on the final morning of a batsman-friendly Test match. In all probability England will have about 80 overs to bowl Pakistan out since Cook is not a carrot dangler. This will be a tricky task, but England, unlike Pakistan, are at least in a position where they could win the game.

The dutiful self-denial of their team-mates in the first two sessions allowed Bairstow and Moeen their chance to take control and they did so with relish. Bairstow began attacking the wide deliveries that had been disdained for much of the day, while Moeen’s silky driving, especially against Yasir Shah, was a delight, savoured by residents of his home city, who found their voice on a balmy evening.

Once again the ballast in his lower middle-order was a source of much reassurance to the England captain, who began the day eager to enlarge his first century partnership with Alex Hales.

There was a time when the sight of Cook at the crease could provoke thoughts that were unpatriotic, unworthy and downright selfish. A nasty little voice in the back of the head might mumble: “If Cookie happened to get a good one early on, well at least for the rest of the day the cricket would be more entertaining and unpredictable.” Such mean-spirited thoughts must now be banished, not so much on ethical grounds, but because Cook in the summer of 2016 has become one of England’s most fluent, free-flowing batsmen.

He has never hit the ball so sweetly. Even though he has scored 381 runs in the three Tests against Pakistan he might reckon that he should have scored more given how well he has been seeing the ball. His strike rate in this series is 70.55, which is higher than any other batsman. Comparisons with Matthew Hayden keep popping up. Cook at the crease has become quite a spectacle.

While he remained there with Hales England’s plan must have been to forge on in pursuit of a lead that made them impregnable, giving themselves as much time as possible to bowl Pakistan out on Sunday. But when Cook and Hales were dismissed within half an hour of the start England’s approach immediately became more cagey. Once again, Cook timed a full-length ball sweetly, so sweetly that it kept travelling in the air to Yasir at cover point. In the next over Hales was caught at second slip by Younis Khan off Mohammad Amir. England became more preoccupied with saving the game than winning it.

Even Joe Root was relatively subdued in a 95-run partnership with James Vince. He was hampered by some back pain, which seemed to restrict him. There was a string of four maidens as lunch approached and an edge from Root on 25 just about carried to Mohammed Hafeez at first slip, but the ball fell to earth.

Meanwhile, Vince was all sackcloth after his cavalier efforts earlier in the series. By lunchtime he had played his longest innings for England, though not his highest.

The cricket remained unusually attritional after the break. The Pakistan pacemen were disciplined and unusually conservative; they bowled wide of off stump often to a 7-2 field; the batsmen were prepared to leave ball after ball, which has been a feature of this match. Seldom in a 21st-century Test have so many deliveries been left alone by batsmen (no, I cannot be any more definitive than that).

Vince was almost becalmed; Root ticked along a little faster until he appalled himself by top-edging a sweep against Yasir, who had just opted to bowl around the wicket into the rough outside leg stump. Root remained statuesque at the crease. For a moment it looked as if his back had gone again, but the source of his immobility was sheer disappointment.

Vince hung on, equalling his Test-best score of 42, whereupon another slip catch was presented off Amir. On this occasion, Vince’s self-denial had been impressive and appropriate. His despair at his demise was also palpable.

Root and Vince could do with some tuition from Alec Stewart on how to leave the crease upon dismissal. Stewart would have tucked his bat under his shoulder, removed his gloves and started upon a consolatory cup of tea by the time Root and Vince had dragged themselves towards the ubiquitous cameraman, who has the dubious privilege of sprinting on to the outfield before sticking his lens very close to the nose of a dejected batsman.

Gary Ballance was just as responsible in his approach, pushing forward to Yasir and smelling the leather, while letting more deliveries pass by harmlessly outside his off stump from the pacemen. Once again Yasir dismissed him by attacking his leg stump from around the wicket. A little nudge took the inside edge and Asad Shafiq at leg slip held a neat catch.

This was Yasir’s 90th wicket in his 15th Test. No one has taken so many so quickly, not even George Lohmann, who captured 89 wickets in his first 15 matches at the end of the 19th century. However, the threat of Yasir has been successfully neutered in the past two Tests after his mesmerising performance at Lord’s. The batsmen have identified that his most dangerous ball is his fizzer and they have adjusted their techniques accordingly.

In the final hour Yasir was put to the sword as Misbah-ul-Haq’s bowlers finally ran out of puff. England’s earlier prudence was rewarded as Bairstow and Moeen smoothly went through the gears. In the final session, 152 runs were added, more than England had acquired in the first two and left Cook contemplating how to win the game on a surface that obstinately refuses to deteriorate.

Contributor

Vic Marks at Edgbaston

The GuardianTramp

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