Perhaps England needed reminding that Test cricket is supposed to be tough. For most of this year, since they left Johannesburg with their tail between their legs, it has been as soft for them as grandma's apple pie.
The humiliating defeat inflicted by South Africa in January had become distant, not forgotten exactly but not remembered as the bone-chilling exercise in supremacy that it was. In six matches since then, opponents were swept aside, sometimes waving the white flag as they went.
Oh, what a joyful ship. It has been easy to imagine Andrew Strauss gathering his charges on the eve of the match and asking: "Is everybody happy?" To which the boys obviously reply as one: "You bet your life we are."
Never in the run of victories, four over Bangladesh, two over Pakistan, did England concede a first-innings deficit, only once was their lead below 100. They did what they had to do and they did it well. But yesterday, on the second day of the third Test, Pakistan went ahead by 75 runs and by the close they had removed the England captain.
Most of the attention on England's batting shortcomings lately has been directed towards Alastair Cook and there is no doubt that an important day lies ahead. But the microscope under which all batsmen are scrutinised can comfortably now find room for his opening partner. Strauss has made one half-century in this series and last evening, when he edged a ball he could have left alone, he was out for the fifth time in this series to left-arm fast bowling, for the fourth to Mohammad Aamer.
Pakistan's lead might be hugely significant in a moderately scoring match, though if England really are as hard-nosed and sleek an outfit as they outwardly appear, they are not out of it yet. The tourists were made to eke out their runs in conditions still offering the bowlers a reason to clock in, never going along at a fraction more than three runs an over. In the returning, familiar shape of Mohammad Yousuf and the less familiar form of Azhar Ali, they were confronted with batsmen who seemed aware of what was demanded of them. Azhar's unbeaten 92, much of it coming while he was marshalling the tail, deserved to be a hundred.
There were moments when England looked as if they might break through to maintain their recent sequence and keep Pakistan's score below 233, in the first hour and then again later in the afternoon. But the opposition were not to be breached as they had been at Trent Bridge and Edgbaston when the first sight of a deviating ball elicited the panic provoked by a swarm of wasps at a picnic.
Part of the difference lay in the surface. There was movement all right but never as regularly disconcerting as in the first two matches of the series. Part lay in Pakistan recognising at last, in their fifth Test of the summer in this country, what was expected of them. Part lay in the introduction of Yousuf.
Over two hours and 38 minutes, he grew in confidence and expectation. It had been seven months since his last first-class innings – in the third Test of the wretched tour of Australia, when he scored seven and 23 – but gradually he came to terms with his mission, to be a returning conquering hero. By the time he had passed 50, while also passing on his nous to Azhar, it seemed that he must cruise on to his 25th Test hundred. He was always assured square of the wicket and as his innings progressed he was waiting for the ball, playing it late and assuredly, picking his spots.
But Graeme Swann had his measure, demonstrating again that he knows how to assemble a spell. On 56, Yousuf aimed a cover drive at a ball which turned a touch and sent a return catch to the bowler. Swann and his colleagues were delighted, nay relieved. They knew that this was the probable difference between a huge deficit and a possible lead. It was Swann's 100th Test wicket in only his 23rd match.
Azhar did not catch the eye as much while MoYo was going through his stuff, but then not many could. He is a well-ordered right-hander who was not afraid to get on the front foot, clipping certainly off his legs and reaching his fifty with a belting shot through point.
The day started as well for the home side as the previous day had started badly. Yasir Hameed, prodding at the second ball from Steve Finn that he should have ignored, was caught behind. Before long Salman Butt, on six, was dropped by Eoin Morgan at point off Jimmy Anderson. Not that it mattered because no sooner had Strauss summoned Swann than Butt, who is having a horrid time of it since he assumed the captaincy, was out. Matt Prior did a juggler's audition in taking the catch, the ball bouncing out twice before he lunged forward to take it one-handed. When the wonderfully diverting nightwatchman, Wahad Riaz, was out five minutes before lunch that might have been that for Pakistan. But Yousuf and Azhar regrouped neatly and after Yousuf went there was a vignette from Umar Akmal.
Akmal and Azhar were progressing smoothly when Morgan made amends for his earlier aberration. He swooped in from extra cover to aim an accurate underarm throw at the stumps with Akmal trying vainly to regain his ground. Umar's elder brother, Kamran did enough ,at least, to avoid a third successive duck but just as it seemed England might swiftly end matters with the second new ball, came more resistance. Mohammad Aamer was caught at the wicket, Saeed Ajmal was bowled in short order by Anderson but Strauss then shelled a low but regulation offering from Mohammad Asif and Pakistan were allowed to add 30 more irritating, crucial runs. The day was to become worse still for Strauss.
Oval timeline: The second day's events
11.01 England get the start they need when, to the day's second ball, Yasir Hameed obligingly pushes at a ball going away from him and edges behind.
11.37 Salman Butt's miserable series continues. Having been reprieved when dropped on six his attempted cut to Swann's second ball is edged behind. Matt Prior juggles it but at the third attempt clings on.
12.55 Wahab Riaz's entertaining stint as nightwatchman ends just before lunch when he sweeps at Swann and is lbw. The review he requests cannot save him.
2.15 In one of those delays that can happen only in cricket, play is held up for three minutes while the footholes where the bowlers land are filled in with a mixture that looks as though it contains cement.
2.57 Swann, belatedly instated as a contender for the ICC cricketer of the year award after being overlooked in the initial shortlist, takes his 100th Test wicket. What a wicket it is too as Mohammad Yousuf, neat, composed and looking a shoo-in for his 25th Test hundred, miscues an attempted drive and offers a gratefully received return catch. Swann has been a Test cricketer for 1 year 151 days; no Englishman has reached the landmark quicker.
4.20 Umar Akmal prods one to the covers and sets off for a single he has no chance of making. Eoin Morgan throws to the striker's end and hits the stumps, and Umar's gone for 38.
4.40 Kamran Akmal flashes at a Broad delivery outside off-stump and this time Morgan takes an easy catch at backward point.
4.48 Azhar Ali's fine back-foot drive through the covers brings him a four and more importantly a second Test fifty and his highest Test score to date.
5.12 Broad lands a second wicket in the session, round the wicket to Mohammad Amir, who edges to Prior.
5.17 Jimmy Anderson beats Saeed Ajmal for pace and swing and hits the top of off stump.
6.07 Pakistan's innings ends 308 all out, a lead of 75.
6.19 The second ball of England's second innings sees Strauss attempt a pull off Amir. He could easily have dragged it on to his stumps but it sails safely past the stumps and down to fine leg for four. Next ball but one and it's all over for Strauss as he pops a regulation catch to second slip.
6.31 Anderson is brave in getting behind the line of the ball against Amir, but he defends his stumps well and that concludes the day's entertainment.
The Oval scoreboard
Third Test (Second day of five) Pakistan lead England by 75 runs after the first innings; England won toss
England: First Innings 233 (M Prior 84; W Riaz 15-63, M Asif 3-68).
Pakistan: First Innings Overnight: 48-1
Y Hameed c Prior b Finn 36, 53 balls 6 fours 1 six
W Riaz lbw b Swann 27, 75 balls 3 fours
*S Butt c Prior b Swann 17, 24 balls 3 fours
M Yousuf c & b Swann 56, 108 balls 8 fours
A Ali not out 92, 176 balls 15 fours
U Akmal run out (Morgan) 38, 50 balls 4 fours 1 six
†K Akmal c Morgan b Broad 10, 16 balls 1 four
M Aamer c Prior b Broad 6, 20 balls 1 four
S Ajmal b Anderson 0, 2 balls
M Asif c Anderson b Swann 8, 25 balls 1 four
Extras (lb 4, w 1, nb 2) 7
Total (100.2 overs) 308
Fall 1-48 (Farhat), 2-48 (Hameed), 3-76 (Butt), 4-110 (Riaz), 5-179 (Yousuf), 6-236 (Akmal), 7-251 (Akmal), 8-269 (Aamer), 9-270 (Ajmal), 10-308 (Asif).
Bowling J Anderson 24-6-79-2 (nb2) (4-1-13-0, 3-1-6-1, 7-2-14-0, 4-1-24-0, 6-1-22-1), S Broad 25-4-72-2 (w1) (6-2-28-0, 6-1-6-0, 5-1-13-0, 8-0-25-2), S Finn 20-4-74-1 (3-3-0-0, 4-1-13-1, 4-0-17-0, 5-0-25-0, 2-0-7-0, 2-0-12-0), G Swann 27.2-9-68-4 (2-1-1-0, 4-1-11-1, 2-1-6-1, 17-5-42-1, 2.2-1-8-1), P Collingwood 4-0-11-0 (one spell).
Second-day Progress 50 in 19.5 overs, 100 in 38.1 overs, Lunch 111-4 (Yousuf 16, Ali 0) 44.0 overs, 150 in 51.5 overs, 200 in 72.0 overs, Tea 215-5 (Ali 42 100 balls, 6 fours, U Akmal 22) 74.0 overs, 250 in 82.5 overs, 300 in 99.5 overs.
Umpires S J Davis (Aus) & A L Hill (NZ)
TV replay umpire B F Bowden (NZ).
Match referee R S Madugalle (S Lanka).Reuse content