For a few peaceable hours yesterday, Test cricket returned to something like routine. What a relief, what a pleasure that it should happen on the day of the latest wham-bam edition of cricketshowbiz, the sporting X Factor otherwise known as the Indian Premier League auction.
Not that there was either pleasure or relief for England. They were under siege by the end of the second day in the Third Test, and not remotely looking like repelling the boarders.
It was as if the world, out of kilter for a fortnight and on the verge of craziness, was returning to its normal axis. This was to the benefit only of Pakistan, who led by 180 runs at the close, with Younis Khan having assembled a model Test century which rather put into the shade Andrew Strauss's first fifty of the series.
Younis and Azhar Ali put on 194 for the third wicket, easily the highest partnership of the three Tests. Since their team had been 53 for 7 at lunch on the first day, and were eventually bowled out for 99, this defied the logic of cricket of any variety.
In only one of the previous 25 sessions in this series had no wicket fallen. Crazy cricket, crazy batting. Younis and Azhar rectified this by going for two together. No team since 1907 have made a double-figure total in the first innings of a Test match and gone on to win. But from its first morning this series has been irrational, and there seems no reason for it to stop now.
Pakistan batted in a beautifully measured fashion, remembering that innings can sometimes be erected brick by custom-made brick, not slapped together in kit form from the local Twenty20 store. The plan was to grind England into the desert sand and claim a 3-0 series victory, a clean sweep they have never achieved against these opponents.
As for England, they have not suffered a whitewash since 2006-07 in Australia, a result that led to the resignation of the coach and years of tumult. That will probably not happen this time, but however this series is analysed it has not been becoming for England. They came into it, and will indeed leave it, as the world's top-ranked Test side. But that, as they will know themselves, is now a status accorded by an algorithm rather than by human evidence from experts and eyewitnesses.
Pakistan have played the more composed and mature cricket, as they did throughout yesterday. At the start, all manner of outcomes were possible after 16 wickets had fallen on the first day amid a welter of inappropriate procedure by batsmen confronted by prodigious bowling and not much fancying what they saw.
By the end, Pakistan had won two of the sessions by a distance, after perhaps losing the first by a nose. Younis, the grizzled, much-retired veteran, and Azhar, a stoic apprentice who has had to learn quickly, took no chances, and with so much time left in the match had no need.
The partnership confounded almost all the batting that had preceded it in the previous three weeks and was impeccably compiled. It began in unpromising circumstances, with Pakistan 28 for 2 and apparently following the procedure of the match thus far, which was that all batsmen should behave ridiculously.
For the first few overs either side of lunch the pair did virtually nothing except watch the ball and keep it out, a deeply old-fashioned practice if ever there was one. A mistake then and the floodgates, opened wide the previous day, might have welcomed in England again.
Gradually, painstakingly they began to assert themselves, rotating the strike at first and then becoming more adventurous. They swept and they came down the pitch to the spinners, and they were never less than certain.
Younis was the senior partner, as he should have been. His first 50 took 106 balls, his second a mere 60, a true reflection of the way he played. His movement forward and back was as precise as the shots he threaded through the field. At the other end, Azhar was altogether more prosaic, but his attention to his duty could not be faulted.
For no bowler was the afternoon more painful than Graeme Swann, who a fortnight ago was the world's No 1 spinner. He has surrendered that crown and something else besides.
There was no fizz about him yesterday, and maybe on a second- day pitch that was too much to expect. His figures for this series are adequate – 10 wickets so far at under 30 runs each – but he has never applied constant pressure, and nor did he yesterday, when Younis played him much as he pleased. Swann is suffering what England are suffering: weight of expectation.
England did not make as many as they would have liked in the morning, which is rapidly becoming the old, old story. Strauss, dogged as an old retainer, nudged and nurdled his way to 50 but was determined not to be crease-bound. It did for him in the end when he came down the wicket, was beaten by Abdur Rehman's turn and stumped.
England had already lost two wickets: Jimmy Anderson in the first over, Stuart Broad after the seventh review of the match to be lbw. They managed a lead which at the time looked handier than it was.
Pakistan won toss
Pakistan - First innings 99 (S C J Broad 4-36)
England - First innings (overnight 104-6)
Balls 4s 6s
*A J Strauss st †Adnan Akmal
b Abdur Rehman 56 150 5 0
J M Anderson b Abdur Rehman 4 22 0 0
S C J Broad lbw b Saeed Ajmal 4 19 0 0
G P Swann c Abdur Rehman b Saeed Ajmal 16 18 3 0
M S Panesar not out 0 1 0 0
Extras (b1 lb4) 5
Total (all out, 55 overs) 141
Fall (cont): 7-106, 8-121, 9-133.
Bowling: Umar Gul 7-1-28-2; Aizaz Cheema 4-0-9-0; Saeed Ajmal 23-6-59-3; Abdur Rehman 21-4-40-5.
Pakistan - Second innings
Balls 4s 6s
Mohammad Hafeez lbw b Panesar 21 36 3 1
Taufeeq Umar c Strauss b Anderson 6 16 1 0
Azhar Ali not out 75 246 3 1
Younis Khan not out 115 195 11 1
Extras (b4, nb1) 5
Total (2 wkts, 82 overs) 222
To bat: *Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq, Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Aizaz Cheema.
Fall: 1-16, 2-28.
Bowling: Anderson 16-5-24-1; Broad 12-3-38-0; Panesar 33-7-84-1; Swann 19-2-58-0; Trott 2-0-14-0.
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) and S J A Taufel (Aus).
TV umpire: SK Tarapore (India)
Match referee: JJ Crowe (New Zealand).Reuse content