Joe Root was cast yet again as England’s best hope in their unlikely mission to save the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai.
Amid uncertainty about the extent of Alastair Cook’s apparent discomfort, and after the early loss of both the captain and his fellow opener Moeen Ali, England’s chances of batting for more than another four sessions were slim indeed by late afternoon on day four. But in only notional pursuit of a world-record 491 to win, Root shared a century stand with Ian Bell and – still there at stumps on 59 out of 130 for three – he represented reason to wonder if it might be possible after all to close out a stalemate.
England’s third-wicket pair played with precision and decisive footwork to defy Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz and all until Bell fell half an hour before the close.
When England had lost both openers before tea, they appeared to be on a fast track to a landslide defeat which would give Pakistan a 1-0 lead with one to play. Cook’s physical well-being was a further worry – he was moving in evident pain throughout his short innings. But England’s medics insisted they had no concerns, and reported no injury.
Root and Bell calmed nerves back on the pitch and frustrated Pakistan – who had declared on 354 for six following Younus Khan’s 31st Test century.
England’s attempted rearguard started poorly when they lost Moeen for a single in the fifth over. The manner of his departure was alarming too.
Moeen went after a full ball from Imran Khan but edged his attempted drive to second slip, and then the introduction of Yasir brought Cook’s uncharacteristically faulty sweep to deep square-leg. Root and Bell batted with authority, though, inducing a smattering of frayed tempers among the opposition. Root went back ahead of Cook as this year’s most prolific Test run maker before reaching his second 50 of the match with a controlled edge wide of slip for four off Yasir.
Bell seemed sure to reach a half-century too, only to be caught at slip off the glove as he tried to leave when a Zulfiqar Babar delivery turned and kicked.
Asad Shafiq had bagged Pakistan’s fourth 50 of the innings, before Misbah-ul-Haq decided it was time again to test England’s batsmen on a wearing pitch.
Younus (118) lost his overnight partner Misbah early, the captain missing his chance of a second century in the match for the second time in his career when he fell without addition on the resumption.
But Pakistan’s all-time record run scorer moved serenely to yet another hundred of his own.
James Anderson broke the fourth-wicket stand on 141 in the fourth over of the day when Misbah (87) mistimed his slower off-cutter straight into the hands of mid-off. But Younus completed his century with his 11th four, a back-foot force off Adil Rashid, from 193 balls, in a stand of 113 with Shafiq (79).