SHARJAH — Pakistan grabbed two early wickets to hit England hard in their chase of a 284-run target as the third and final Test heads for an intriguing finish after day four in Sharjah on Wednesday.
England were 46-2 with Alastair Cook (17) and Joe Root (6) fighting hard against Pakistan’s spinners, led by Shoaib Malik, who claimed both wickets on a weary Sharjah Stadium pitch.
England need another 238 runs on the fifth and final day on Thursday for a series-levelling win, while Pakistan will fancy posting a 2-0 victory. Pakistan won the second Test by 178 runs in Dubai after the first ended in a draw in Abu Dhabi.
It was Malik, due to quit Test cricket after this match, who provided Pakistan’s early breakthroughs, trapping Moeen Ali (22) leg-before and then bowling Ian Bell (0) in successive overs.
Cook and Root survived confident leg-before appeals off left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar in the dying moments.
England’s best chase in all Test cricket is the 332 they made against Australia in 1928. In Asia their highest target achieved is 209 against Bangladesh at Dhaka five years ago.
England could have dismissed Pakistan for less than 355 in their second innings and left an easier target had they not dropped two crucial catches, of Mohammad Hafeez on 113 and Asad Shafiq on 29.
Paceman Stuart Broad led the attack with 3-44, ably backed up by James Anderson (2-52), to help England take the last six Pakistan wickets with the second new ball for 126 runs.
It was only through Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed’s 55-run stand for the seventh wicket that Pakistan’s lead soared over 250, as the pair batted with determination. Spinner Samit Patel bowled the Pakistan keeper for 36 before Broad beat Shafiq on 46 to leave Pakistan at 354-9.
England took the second new ball after 81 overs with Pakistan at a lunch score of 229-4 and Broad struck in the fifth over, trapping Pakistan skipper Misbah-ul-Haq leg before for 38.
Misbah hit two fours and a six and became Broad’s 50th wicket in the calendar year in his 13th Test, the best this year.
Misbah and Hafeez added 93 runs for the fifth wicket.
Hafeez, dropped by Broad off his own bowling when on 113, drove Anderson for two to reach the 150-mark, his fourth score of 150-plus in Tests, but a run later holed out to spinner Ali at long-on where Bell took a sitter.
Hafeez batted for 380 minutes, faced 266 balls and hit 15 fours and three sixes.
Hafeez said he was pleased with his contribution.
“I am happy that I have contributed to the kind of total we wanted to achieve,” said Hafeez. “We have got two wickets, so we fancy our chances on this pitch which is helping spinners.”
With that catch, Bell became the eighth English fielder to take 100-plus catches in Test cricket. This is his 118th match.
It was a battle of survival for Pakistan in the morning as England looked for early wickets. Hafeez had anxious moments as leg-spinner Adil Rashid trapped him in front of the wicket with the first ball of the day, after Pakistan resumed on 146-3.
England challenged umpire Chris Gaffaney’s not out decision but television umpire Paul Reiffel upheld the verdict.
One ball later, Hafeez charged down the wicket against a googly from Rashid but missed the ball completely. However, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow missed a stumping chance and the ball went for four byes.
Hafeez swept Rashid in the next over for a single to reach his century off 169 balls, his second at the Sharjah Stadium.
England players wore black armbands in memory of former batsman Tom Graveney who died on Tuesday at the age of 88 after a long illness. He played 79 Tests for England.