Alastair Cook puts England on top against Pakistan

 

Alastair Cook fell short of a 20th Test hundred as England battled for a mid-match advantage in their quest to level the series against Pakistan.

Cook was lbw for 94 to the wiles of Saeed Ajmal late on day two at the Zayed Stadium, and remains one short of his mentor Graham Gooch's tally of centuries and still joint-sixth on the all-time England list.

His efforts were nonetheless notable for helping to give the world number ones even prospects of winning here, and heading for next week's final Test of three with a chance of series victory after all.

Cook shared a gritty and telling second-wicket stand of 139 with Jonathan Trott (74), after captain Andrew Strauss had continued his recent relative lack of productivity with another failure at the top of the order.

But his dismissal, the first of three for only nine runs shortly before stumps, undermined an otherwise encouraging day for the tourists - who closed on 207 for five in reply to 257.

England themselves had taken Pakistan's last three wickets in 15 minutes this morning, for the addition of just one run, to earn an obvious opportunity to hit back after their first-Test hammering last week.

But they had to bat well to do so, against Ajmal in particular, on a pitch already offering exaggerated assistance to the slow bowlers.

They lost Strauss early, before Cook and Trott took over - with luck on their side more than once.

Strauss played Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez well enough after Pakistan turned to spin by the sixth over, until he fell bat-pad to the latter and an off-break which bounced a little more than expected.

Hafeez conceded only 10 runs in as many overs up to lunch, and Ajmal was soon posing tough questions too.

Cook survived a scare on 27 in the last over of the morning when a sharp bat-pad chance just evaded short-leg off Hafeez, and Trott would have gone lbw on DRS for just 22 had Pakistan reviewed Steve Davis' not-out decision.

Misbah-ul-Haq's men were to have no joy at all with DRS, eventually squandering both reviews for lbws against Trott just before and just after he reached his 95-ball 50.

Trott and Cook rarely convinced for long against spin, and it was a moot point whether they were able to pick Ajmal's doosra - which was turning more than in Dubai last week but was marginally less dangerous as edges were missed and lbws harder to come by.

England cared not too much about all of that, though, as long as their second-wicket pair stayed together and continued chipping away at an ever-decreasing deficit.

They did so, in fact, until Trott failed to cover his stumps in front-foot defence and lost his off-bail to a fine delivery which slow left-armer Abdur Rehman turned sharply from round the wicket.

Cook relied on his chief assets, concentration and shot selection, and appeared set for his milestone hundred only to fall at last - after almost five hours on duty - missing some Ajmal turn on the front-foot defence.

When Kevin Pietersen also went to Ajmal before stumps, caught at slip via bat and pad aiming an ambitious drive, Ian Bell and Eoin Morgan were left to survive a perilous passage of play - and it proved too much for the left-hander, who edged the last ball of the day to slip off the deserving Ajmal (three for 67).

England therefore still had work to do to make sure Cook and Trott's efforts would not be in vain, but a first-innings lead still looked a probability.

England had begun the day in the field, but not for long. Stuart Broad (four for 47), the outstanding bowler yesterday, kickstarted a run of three wickets for no run in seven balls when he saw off Misbah for the addition of just a single to his overnight 83.

Once the Pakistan captain went, lbw in the second over of the day to a Broad ball which nipped back in off the seam - as several had yesterday - James Anderson took over to make short work of the tail.

He was responsible for the last two wickets in the same over, Ajmal lbw pushing forward and Umar Gul fencing a catch to second slip.

It was a near perfect start for England, and - thanks mainly to Cook - much that followed was in their favour too.

PA

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