Bairstow and Ali put England in control

Unbeaten on 82, Jonny Bairstow steered England into pole position.  Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA
Unbeaten on 82, Jonny Bairstow steered England into pole position. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA
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The hope is there is a result tomorrow in this Test match. Both teams deserve that, although after the superb partnership between Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali in the evening session today there is realistically only one winner – England.

For Pakistan, though, a draw and extending the series to the Oval would feel as good as a win. The contest has been compelling from the very beginning and Pakistan have proved that their success in the first match at Lord’s was no fluke.

Indeed the whole series has been compelling as the teams are evenly matched and very competitive.

Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root and Moeen Ali’s half-centuries put England in control of their own destiny against Pakistan at Edgbaston.

Root (62) and James Vince did much of the hardest work on a slow-burn fourth day of the third Investec Test - but Bairstow (82no) and Mooen (60no) also had to dig in to earn the freedom with which they played in a unbroken century stand before stumps.

England’s resulting 414 for five gives them a lead of 311 and the opportunity to dictate the remaining course of this pivotal match, depending on Alastair Cook’s sense of adventure in a series poised at 1-1 with one more Test to come at The Oval next week.

Misbah- ul- Haq had proved a very dignified and shrewd captain. He has managed his squad of talents superbly, and that is why the likelihood is that this series will go down to the last match at the Oval.

What price the England management demanding the fastest, bounciest pitch possible? It would make sense. Every other country gets pitches that suit so why not England?

Firstly though this match must play out and after a couple of lacklustre days England managed to salvage and then dominate play. It started with Alastair Cook and Alex Hales chalking off the 103 runs deficit from the first innings.

Neither managed to continue much yesterday and that brought Pakistan hope, but what followed was a war of attrition that reminded of Test cricket from decades ago. This was not attack and dominate cricket that is the norm today, but a cagey game of cat and mouse. No quarter was asked for and none given. It was not hellfire and brimstone, but a contest of wits and patience, chess on a green canvas if you will.

Joe Root and James Vince stonewalled, scuttled runs and steadfastly refused to engage in ‘ego’ cricket. Misbah tested them by making his bowlers bowl well wide of off-stump with a defensive field. There were a sequence of maidens before lunch and when the edge came, off Root on 25, it was dropped. Misbah’s plan had brought a chance, quite possibly a crucial one but down it went.

The game was continuously in the balance, every time England eking ahead a wicket would fall.

Root was caught sweeping. The lead was 118. Vince went caught for 42 in 123 balls and the lead was 154.

England needed 260 minimum, and preferably a few more. Gary Ballance did his best but naively fell into a leg slip trap to Yasir Shah and the lead was 179. At every dismissal Pakistan had a chance but then came the late show of Ali and Bairstow. They were undefeated at the close and had extended the lead to 311. It was a pivotal partnership as it removed defeat from the equation for England and gave Cook the puzzler of when to declare.

Could Pakistan have attacked more? Probably as Misbah went to his containing strategy quite early but he has only four bowlers at his disposal and also a slightly weaker batting line up.

If he had attacked hard and leaked runs quickly Cook might have declared before close of play. Just as Cook will be relieved if the series is all square for the final Test, so will Misbah be.

Anderson and Broad will have other ideas though. They have the best part of one day to take 10 wickets to take a crucial lead in the series. They know this is a gilt-edged opportunity, earned the hard way by the batters after a couple of shoddy days.

The pitch has shown some vagaries and the Pakistan batting line up will be under pressure.

Series wins need spells of excellence, players to seize moments. England’s bowlers have one today. Seize it and the series cannot be lost and could be won.