Sometime today, England will win the First Test by a mountain of runs. Victory against Pakistan will extend their winning sequence to five matches and the record will show that they have lost only two of their past 20 Tests. They hold the Ashes and are in splendid fettle to retain them this winter.
All is right with England's world. And yet they continue to flatter to deceive. Either they keep having to dig themselves out of holes or they fail to crush their opponents when crushing them seems as easy as putting a fist through a rice pudding.
These may be minor points, mere quibbles, considering that before the end of the third day here they had established an impregnable lead of 434 and then reduced Pakistan's second innings to the rubble that 11 for three invariably means. Matt Prior batted with deftness, poise and efficiency to score his third Test hundred and though his procession through the nineties was rendered rather stately by defensive fields it was still eminently watchable.
But there have been frailties on all three days of an extremely appealing Test match in which something has always been happening, frailties that stronger teams will brutally expose, frailties that Australia in Australia might consider to be a gift delivered on a golden platter.
England's top order was a cause for potential trouble in both innings on a pitch that, it is true, seam bowlers would like to pack alongside their embrocation. On the first day they were 118 for four before a fifth-wicket partnership of 219 transformed fortunes, effectively won the match and marked the entry of a new virtuoso in Eoin Morgan whose 130 was perfectly formed.
On the second, the tourists were 47 for six, still more than 300 adrift and stone dead in any terms. Yet they recovered well enough – fitfully at first, with gay abandon by the end – to avoid the follow on yesterday.
And then there was England's second innings on the third day, providing more cause to ponder the state of the top order and confirming the reasons why the selectors insist six batsmen and not five are required. In no time at all, England had lost their openers and at 98 for six, the window for a sensational Pakistan victory was narrowly ajar.
All the discussion before proceedings began was about whether
England would enforce the follow-on. This was taken out of their hands in swashbuckling fashion by the improbable figure of Umar Gul, who single-handedly saved it and then some. Needing eight to reduce the deficit below 200, he drove the first ball of the day crisply to the leg-side boundary and then took 18 runs off the second bowled by Steve Finn.
Pakistan had cut England's lead to a mere 172 when Mohammad Asif was calmly run out by Morgan, who applied to his fielding the qualities he applies to his batting, assessing the position perfectly before taking aim.
England's disarray was swift. Andrew Strauss went to the fourth ball, edging a grandiose away swinger which Umar Akmal at second slipped palmed twice before brother, wicketkeeper Kamram, plunged forward to hold the catch.
Shortly after, Alastair Cook, in need of Test runs again, was caught down the leg side. The ball was moving, the ship needed steadying. Both Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were fidgety at first. Pietersen was searching for the ball, a sure sign of anxiety, Trott looked steely.
They seemed to have overcome the worst when they were out in quick succession. Pietersen went first, the victim of a remarkable one-handed catch by Kamran who dived a long way to his left to take an inside edge. Poor Pietersen – who would have thought he could be so described when he was on top of the world – was the victim of bounce, movement and getting into a tangle.
He must be wondering when the days of wine and roses might return and soon will start to worry if they ever will. England cannot continue to insist he is their best batsman because it is a long time since he was that. He has gone 22 innings without a Test hundred and he is not the batsman he was or England need him to be.
At some point and the time is rapidly approaching, Pietersen of all people will have to be asked to go back to his county and rediscover his form. If only he had a county. Hampshire, the club he formally leaves at the end of the summer, have already refused to select him once. For now, he has to battle on for England but it is becoming an increasingly unhappy sight.
Trott was bowled by one that kept low in Gul's next over. He has done nothing wrong for England but there was the sense as he trudged back to the pavilion musing on the unfairness of it all that he was looking over his shoulder.
Enter Prior. He played guardedly at first and when he was involved in a run out mix-up with Morgan – there never was a third run – there was still the capacity for a swift demise. But with Graeme Swann and then Stuart Broad, Prior put the match out of Pakistan's sight, his driving off his legs crisp, his cutting delicate.
But when England's ninth wicket fell, Prior was on 63 and a hundred probably a long way from his thoughts. He dashed towards his hundred initially, including two sixes off an over from Danish Kaneria, but then Pakistan put up the shutters in the form of a string of sentries on the boundary. Seven times, Prior took a single off the first ball of an over but patience had its reward and eventually he played another cut for three to bring up the hundred. It was thoroughly deserved and Strauss was right to wait for the declaration.
England still had time for Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson to strike thrice between them. The fight had gone from the tourists.
11.05am: Gul off to a flier
Pakistan, needing eight runs to save the follow on, do so with ease. Umar Gul hits the first ball for four and takes 18 off the second over, bowled by Steve Finn.
11.18am: It's not what it seems
Pakistan's innings ends with a run-out, expertly executed by Eoin Morgan, but only after Gul has made 65 not out off 46 balls. Swing and seam, what swing and seam?
11.30am: Brothers' double act
Andrew Strauss falls in the first over as second slip Umar Akmal plays keepy-uppy before brother Kamran takes a smart, diving reflex catch.
12.03pm: Keep pace with Waqar
Unlucky Alastair Cook is snaffled down leg and Mohammad Asif has his 100th Test wicket, equal with Waqar Younis as the quickest Pakistani to the mark, in 20 Tests.
2.00pm: Shock as catch is held
Kamran Akmal stuns the world by taking a superb one-handed diving catch to his left to dismiss Kevin Pietersen. Next ball he shells an edge from Brigadier Block – Paul Collingwood – to his right and the globe is back on its normal axis.
3.20pm: Prior conviction
For the third time this summer Matt Prior, is involved in a running shemozzle, though this time he is not the victim. He had no option but to send back Morgan, who thought there was a third run but never looked like making his ground.
3.40pm: Sun is put in the shade
The sun is shining brightly over Trent Bridge but the floodlights stay on. Only in cricket...
5.20pm: Declaration of intent
Prior cuts for three and avoids the run-out to register his third Test hundred, off 136 balls. England immediately declare.
England won toss
England – First innings 354
(E J G Morgan 130, P D Collingwood 82; Mohammad Asif 5-77)
Pakistan – First innings (Overnight 147-9)
Umar Gul not out (46 balls, 8 fours, 4 sixes) 65
Mohammad Asif run out (Morgan) (8 balls) 0
Extras (b5 lb2) 7
Total (54 overs) 182
Fall (cont) 10-182.
Bowling J M Anderson 22-7-54-5, S C J Broad 17-4-59-1, S T Finn 13-5-50-3, G P Swann 2-1-12-0.
England – Second innings
*A J Strauss c Kamran Akmal b Mohammad Aamer (3 balls) 0
A N Cook c Kamran Akmal b Mohammad Asif (29 balls, 1 four) 12
I J L Trott b Umar Gul (55 balls, 5 fours) 26
K P Pietersen c Kamran Akmal b Umar Gul (50 balls, 3 fours) 22
P D Collingwood lbw b Umar Gul (19 balls) 1
E J G Morgan run out (Umar Amin) (46 balls, 3 fours) 17
†M J Prior not out (136 balls, 7 fours, 2 sixes) 102
G P Swann lbw b Danish Kaneria (35 balls, 4 fours, 1 six) 28
S C J Broad c Imran Farhat b Shoaib Malik (29 balls, 2 fours, 1 six) 24
J M Anderson c Kamran Akmal b Shoaib Malik (4 balls) 2
S T Finn not out (50 balls, 2 fours) 9
Extras (b4 lb11 w1 nb3) 19
Total (9 wkts dec, 75.3 overs) 262
Fall 1-2, 2-18, 3-65, 4-66, 5-72, 6-98, 7-147, 8-203, 9-213.
Bowling Mohammad Aamer 16-3-35-1, Mohammad Asif 17-1-56-1, Umar Gul 15-2-41-3, Umar Amin 5-1-13-0, Danish Kaneria 12-0-71-1, Shoaib Malik 10.3-0-31-2.
Pakistan – Second innings
Imran Farhat not out (15 balls, 1 four) 6
*Salman Butt c Collingwood b Broad (10 balls, 2 fours) 8
Azhar Ali lbw b Broad (2 balls) 0
Umar Amin lbw b Anderson 4 balls) 1
Mohammad Aamer not out (11 balls) 0
Total (3 wkts, 7 overs) 15
Fall 1-10, 2-10, 3-11.
To bat Umar Akmal, Shoaib Malik, †Kamran Akmal, Umar Gul, Danish Kaneria, Mohammad Asif.
Bowling J M Anderson 4-3-1-1, S C J Broad 3-0-14-2.
Umpires E A R de Silva (SL) and A L Hill (Aus).
TV Umpire RM Erasmus (SA).
Referee R S Madugalle (SL).Reuse content