Pakistan stumbled to a hapless 15 for three after Matt Prior's unbeaten 102 left them needing to rewrite Test history by making 435 to win at Trent Bridge.
Prior took guard at 72 for five, as Umar Gul (three for 41) added wickets to the 65 not out he made from number nine this morning to help the tourists avoid the follow-on in this first npower Test.
England were 98 for six before tea. But Prior shared stands of 49 with Graeme Swann, 56 with Stuart Broad and then an unbroken 49 with last man Steven Finn in reaching his third Test hundred from his 136th ball, having hit seven fours and two sixes.
He had left time too for Broad to take two wickets in three balls, Salman Butt flashing an edge head-high to Paul Collingwood at third slip and Azhar Ali getting the rough end of a marginal decision review to go lbw.
Umar Amin was then lbw playing across James Anderson's swing, making Pakistan's prospects of avoiding defeat some time over the next two days utterly negligible.
Gul followed his maiden 50 in any form of cricket with three wickets for seven runs under heavy cloud cover.
But Prior responded with a chanceless innings, capped by two sixes in three balls off the leg-breaks of Danish Kaneria.
The wicketkeeper helped England to almost quadruple their total before his cut for three off Shoaib Malik brought a declaration on 262 for nine.
Finn stayed put for 50 minutes to allow Prior to move from 63 to three figures.
Gul (65no) had earlier made a mockery of his single-figure batting average, with a clutch of pedigree shots which carried Pakistan from an overnight 147 for nine to 182 all out.
England then lost captain Andrew Strauss to a bizarre caught-behind from the fourth ball of Mohammad Aamer's opening over. The left-armer got away movement and bounce from a dangerous area, and Strauss edged to second slip. Umar Akmal was unable to take the chance at the first attempt, but somehow parried the ball back over first slip for his brother Kamran to dive to his left and intercept with the gloves - leaving a disbelieving Strauss to troop off for a third-ball duck.
Pakistan's wicketkeeper, so fallible in the first innings, showed he was back on his game with a catch down the leg-side to see off Alastair Cook and give Mohammad Asif his 100th Test wicket.
Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen needed much determination and skill to avoid further losses beyond lunch, against Asif in particular.
But the best of Akmal was about to ruin Pietersen's hard work, before some more of his worst reprieved Collingwood.
Pietersen got an inside-edge on a short ball, and Akmal flung himself to his left to take a breathtaking catch off Gul. Next ball, though, Collingwood avoided a caught-behind golden duck only because Akmal could not collect another diving chance away to his right.
First-innings centurion Eoin Morgan was also a whisker away from an early departure when Butt's throw from mid-off just missed the stumps, with the batsman short of his ground for a single.
Trott was not so fortunate, Gul bowling him with one that kept devilishly low - and Collingwood went lbw pulling.
Morgan was to go run out after all, Prior involved in a third-run mix-up for the second successive innings but his partner the victim this time after being sent back.
The suspicion was England probably already had enough runs. But for comfort, they needed Prior and the tail to grab another 50 at least.
He decided on a belt-and-braces job, starting with cautious defence and branching out to some of his favourite cuts and off-side drives only as conditions began to ease under sunnier skies.
He lost Swann when Kaneria used DRS to good effect for an lbw. Broad then played well enough to prove he retains his batting ability down the order, before Malik had him caught at slip from an off-break - and Anderson skied a sweep into Akmal's gloves.
Gul had earlier not only near single-handedly taken his team past the follow-on mark but passed his previous career-best with the first of three brilliant pulled sixes off Finn.
He drove the first ball of the day for four wide of mid-on when Anderson overpitched, after the tourists had begun needing eight runs to avoid the follow-on.
Gul then nicked a single off the fifth ball, leaving the vulnerable Asif only one to survive against Anderson - and then taking 18 off Finn's first over.
A high-class back-foot drive for the four still required was followed by a six which sailed over Trott's head at deep square-leg, and then a pull fine of long-leg to complete a 50 which contained eight fours from just 40 balls.
Gul was simply 'in the zone', and two more huge pulled sixes followed in Finn's next over - before a mix-up over a single left Asif short of his ground when a direct hit from Morgan at cover ran out the number 11 for a duck.