Opener Mohammad Hafeez notched a brilliant 97 under pressure to help Pakistan stage a comeback in the third and final Test against England in Sharjah on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old was just three runs away from his ninth Test hundred as he took Pakistan to 146-3 at the close on the third day at Sharjah stadium, leading by 74 runs with seven wickets intact.
Nightwatchman Rahat Ali was the other not out batsman on nought as Pakistan lost the key wicket of Younis Khan for 14, trapped leg-before by fast bowler Stuart Broad with just two overs to go in the day.
But Hafeez held the innings together well, smashing nine boundaries and three sixes during his aggressive 155-ball knock as Pakistan seek to avoid squandering a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Pakistan won the second Test in Dubai while the first Test ended in a draw in Abu Dhabi.
Earlier, off-spinner Shoaib Malik took a career best 4-33 as England were bowled out for 306 in their first innings, taking a 72-run lead over Pakistan’s total of 234.
James Taylor top-scored with 76.
Pakistan were lucky not to lose Hafeez after Australian umpire Bruce Oxenford gave him caught behind off paceman James Anderson in the fifth over of the innings with the score on four.
But Hafeez, then on two, challenged the decision and got away on referral as television replays showed there was a gap between ball and bat, much to the relief of the Pakistan camp.
Hafeez said he was happy to lead the fightback.
– Invaluable -“We needed a good start and I am happy that Ali and I gave that,” said Hafeez. “We need to bat like this tomorrow as well to post a challenging target for England and I am hopeful that we will do that.”
Pakistan were off to a confident start of 101 — only their second 50-plus opening stand in Sharjah — with Hafeez earning the lead by hitting spinner Samit Patel for a four and then taking three runs.
He completed his 13th Test half-century with another boundary off Patel and then hoisted James Anderson for a six and four to post the 100-mark.
Azhar Ali was unfortunate to be run out for 34, as he drove spinner Adil Rashid to extra cover and saw Hafeez scampering for a single. Ali reacted late and was run out at the non-striker’s end.
Malik, who scored a brilliant 245 in the first Test, was caught napping by a sharp inswinger from Anderson which struck him right in front of the wicket, continuing his slide in form.
Earlier, it was Malik’s off-breaks which derailed England who lost their last six wickets on either side of lunch.
Rashid helped Patel add an invaluable 40 for the seventh wicket before England lost their last four wickets for 21.
Patel, playing his first Test in three years, hit six well-timed fours to frustrate Pakistan before he was bowled by leg-spinner Yasir Shah who finished with 3-99.
Malik then had the wickets of Anderson (seven) and Ben Stokes (nought) to improve on his previous best of 4-42 he took against South Africa in Lahore in 2003.
Stokes, who suffered a shoulder injury on Sunday, batted at number 11 in an attempt to increase England’s lead.
When England resumed, on their overnight score of 222-4, their hopes of a big lead rested on the shoulders of Taylor and Bairstow but Rahat broke through in the fifth over of the day, forcing an edge off Taylor to wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed.
Taylor’s 226-minute vigil had six fours and he added 89 for the fifth wicket with Bairstow who also didn’t last long.
Left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar claimed Bairstow with a sharp delivery which came with the arm as the batsman failed to connect a cut and was bowled.