Drawn Tests hardly ever happen here. Since Ian Botham's melodrama against Australia 25 years ago, only two of 22 Tests have failed to produce a result. At 2pm yesterday afternoon, it looked as though tradition was being upheld. England had scored more than 500 in their first innings for the second time in three Tests against Pakistan - they got 461 in the other - and Pakistan's morale was rocky surely, especially after their innings defeat in three days at Old Trafford last weekend.
But this Pakistan team require a significant qualifier. Their openers might be vulnerable - and both were soon out yesterday - but they are followed by three of the world's great batsmen. We are familiar with this, but the meaning of it is that the trio can dictate the course of a game.
Since they are 313 runs behind and still need to score 114 to avoid the follow-on, they might not be able to build a winning position against England, but they can bat for long enough and score heavily enough to manage the draw and prevent England from winning the series here in Leeds. This is still a long shot, but it is not impossible. The pitch has flattened out. The players say it is now a good batting wicket, especially against the old ball.
England were slow to impose themselves on Pakistan's batsmen yesterday. Matthew Hoggard seemed almost intimidated by playing on his home turf, bowling two no balls and three wides in his first spell and giving no hint at all of the ball which drew Taufeeq Umar forward to edge a drive, which was cleanly and competently caught by Chris Read on his comeback. Stephen Harmison was only intermittently threatening.
England had nothing to do with the only other wicket to fall. Two overs later Younis Khan took off on a rash run and Kevin Pietersen, swooping in from cover, scored a direct hit to run out the unlucky Salman Butt - Pietersen not returning the favour done to him by Butt, who had dropped him on 102 on Friday.
Pakistan were 36 for 2. A better start than had seemed likely, but the moment that the game suddenly stopped going England's way happened only six runs later when Paul Collingwood, of all people, dropped a hard chance at third slip when Mohammad Yousuf was on five. It may prove to be a very expensive mistake. At the close Yousuf was only nine runs short of his second hundred of the series. Younis has another 36 to go.
As a pair Younis and Yousuf went on in the way they had begun, playing risky shots with an abandon that astonished the bowlers. Slip catchers leaped high and hopelessly; outfielders sprinted round the boundary. On a number of occasions each of them almost got out, but their hundred stand took only111 balls.
At the close they had added 166 off 245 balls, their explosive start having been tamed somewhat by Monty Panesar, who bowled 14 overs for 25 runs. They trusted their luck, which was a brave thing to do. Pakistan have had precious little of it in this game, though there were none of the eccentric umpiring decision yesterday that had spoiled the first day for them.
Earlier, on a murky grey morning, there had been aspects of England's play which encouraged real optimism after nine months of post-Ashes angst. The top six in the batting order are regularly producing large first-innings totals. Marcus Trescothick is the only one not to have scored a hundred against Pakistan, and Ian Bell has scored three in successive matches, the first Englishman to do so since Graham Gooch 16 years ago.
Despite a modest start in the morning, Pietersen's performance was wonderfully predictable. He hit the ball brutally. Indeed, a straight drive almost did for Bell, on 80, when Umar Gul diverted it on to the stumps at the bowler's end. Only an acrobatic dive by Bell saved him.
When he had reached 130, Pietersen appeared to get mildly bored with the ease with which he was accumulating runs. He hit a boundary and a two with careless swings, and then failed to connect properly with a high straight drive. Mohammad Sami took the catch behind the bowler, 20 yards in from the boundary. As he approached the dressing room, Pietersen acknowledged the applause he now takes for granted by pirouetting to salute each part of the ground - a grandstander meets his grandstand.
Bell, who rarely batted with the fluency he showed at Old Trafford, had looked out of sorts at the start of the day. A couple of unconvincing edges through the slips went to the boundary, and as he approached his hundred, Bell played sketchily through the slips, flashed uncharacteristically outside the off stump and played an unhappy hook shot just over square leg, but he reached his destination with a perfectly timed on-drive.
Bell's form is the biggest single revelation of the summer. Even his colleagues must have wondered whether this little boy would ever grow up. He is now doing so, in his own good time. His form at the moment surely makes it almost inconceivable that he should not play in Australia at No 6. He does not mind. As he said yesterday: "If batting No 6 means I'm in the England team for the next 10 years, that's fine."
The idea for the winter that begins to form in the mind depends on the return to bowling fitness of Andrew Flintoff, but with Bell at No 6, and Flintoff dropping down to No 7 followed by whichever keeper survives the ordeal of the summer, England's team would be completed by the three other members of a four-man bowling attack. The batsmen would be capable of taking the game to Australia, and giving the bowlers a chance to get them out. There is real hope there, though it does depend on Flintoff's return.
But there is this series to be won first. The inference from history is that England ought to be able to tie up the series here, rather than going to The Oval one up with one to play. That would be a platform from which to mount a defence of the Ashes.
NPOWER TEST SCOREBOARD
England won toss
England - First Innings (Overnight: 347-6)
K P Pietersen c Shahid Nazir b Mohammad Sami 135
(Lofted drive to deep mid-off; 271 min, 169 balls, 20 fours, 2 sixes)
I R Bell b Danish Kaneria 119
(Tried to work ball from round wicket through off side; 266 min, 206 balls, 12 fours)
S I Mahmood b Umar Gul 34
(Tried to drive yorker; 73 min, 45 balls, 4 fours)
S J Harmison c Mohammad Sami b Danish Kaneria 36
(Top-edged attempted sweep to fine leg; 29 min, 27 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes)
M S Panesar not out 5
(13 min, 12 balls, 1 four)
Extras (b13 lb6 nb11) 30
Total (526 min, 123 overs) 515
Fall (contd): 7-421 (Pietersen), 8-445 (Bell), 9-501 (Harmison), 10-515 (Mahmood).
Bowling: Mohammad Sami 26-1-135-2 (nb6) (4-0-22-0 6-0-36-1 4-1-16-0 3-0-22-0 2-0-6-0 7-0-33-1), Umar Gul 29-4-123-5 (nb2) (6-1-26-0 4-1-13-1 1-0-6-0 3-0-23-1 11-2-32-2 4-0-23-1 ), Shahid Nazir 28-7-101-1 (nb3) (8-3-19-1 6-2-18-0 5-0-17-0 3-1-8-0 4-1-1 4-0 2-0-25-0), Danish Kaneria 34-4-111-2 (1-0-1-0 2-1-1-0 16-1-57-0 5-1-13-0 10-1-39-2), Taufeeq Umar 2-0-8-0, Salman Butt 4-0-18-0 (one spell each).
Progress, second day: Pietersen resumed his innings immediately. 350 in 386 min, 90.4 overs. 400 in 438 min, 102.2 overs. 450 in 485 min, 112.2 overs. Lunch 488-8 (Mahmood 22, Harmison 30) 117 overs. 500 in 511 min, 119.2 overs. Innings closed 2.05pm.
Pietersen 100: 182 min, 123 balls, 15 fours, 2 sixes.
Bell 100: 223 min, 172 balls, 11 fours.
Pakistan - First Innings
Salman Butt run out (Pietersen) 20
(Yard short responding to poor call for short single; 66 min, 49 balls, 1 four)
Taufeeq Umar c Read b Hoggard 7
(Edged attempted drive to ball slanted across him; 57 min, 38 balls, 1 four)
Younis Khan not out 64
(171 min, 118 balls, 10 fours)
Mohammad Yousuf not out 91
(162 min, 130 balls, 10 fours, 1 six)
Extras (lb12 w3 nb5) 20
Total (for 2, 229 min, 55 overs) 202
Fall: 1-34 (Taufeeq Umar), 2-36 (Salman Butt).
To bat: *Inzamam-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, ÝKamran Akmal, Shahid Nazir, Mohammad Sami, Umar Gul, Danish Kaneria.
Bowling: Hoggard 14-1-43-1 (nb5,w3) (7-1-19-1 7-0-24-0), Harmison 14-0-60-0 (5-0-12-0 6-0-33-0 3-0-15-0), Mahmood 12-3-48-0 (7-2-35-0 5-1-13-0), Panesar 14-6-25-0 (11-5-20-0 3-1-5-0), Pietersen 1-0-14-0.
Progress, second day: 50 in 79 min, 17.1 overs; Tea 66-2 (Younis Khan 15, Mohammad Yousuf 11) 19 overs; 100 in 110 min, 24.3 overs; 150 in 173 min, 39.4 overs; 200 in 226 min, 53.5 overs.
Mohammad Yousuf 50: 87 min, 58 balls, 6 fours.
Younis Khan 50: 114 min, 79 balls, 8 fours.
Umpires: B R Doctrove (WI) and D B Hair (Aus).
TV replay umpire: N J Llong (Eng) Match referee: R S Madugalle (SL).