Necessity is the mother of invention on the subcontinent and on a potentially pivotal third day, one on which Babar Azam peeled off a regal century but England hit back impressively late on, nothing summed this up more than Joe Root using the sweaty head of Jack Leach to shine the ball.
It was the type of creativity required on such a docile surface and after three sessions of toil from Ben Stokes and his players had been rewarded with an uplifting wickets column. Pakistan reached 499 for seven, still 158 in arrears after England’s record-breaking surge to 657 first up.
Will Jacks is another product of necessity. The all-rounder’s call-up for this tour was a result of England’s threadbare spin-bowling resources, while his Test debut here only came about at the 11th hour after Ben Foakes failed to recover from the virus that threatened to delay this series opener. Though the 24-year-old doesn’t appear the type to wish ill on anyone, let alone a Surrey teammate, the upshot was a day he will never forget.
Figures of three for 132 from 33 overs may not leap off the page, but in the context of this run-soaked contest his incisions were golden. First was the removal of Abdullah Shafique for 114 with his fourth ball of the morning, the opener edging a cut to Ollie Pope to end a mighty opening stand of 225 runs with Imam-ul-Haq.
But come stumps the sensation of claiming a maiden Test wicket had been eclipsed by the dismissal of Babar in a four-wicket evening session that shifted the balance of power back to England. Babar had become the seventh centurion of the match but his wonderfully serene 136 was ended when he looked to cut Jacks square but hit it straight to Leach at backward point.
“A bit of disbelief really,” said Jacks when asked for his reaction. “It was the first ball of my spell, a bit of a loosener outside off. If we go on to win this Test then I guess that could be seen as a big moment, that wicket, Mohammad Rizwan the very next over, and one more in the last hour.”
Jimmy Anderson, at the other end of his career but similarly new to Test cricket in Pakistan, removed Rizwan for 29 and open up the lower order. As has been the case all match, it owed a fair bit to an error of judgment, the No 7 chipping softly to the grateful Stokes at short midwicket.
But then the captain’s presence in this position was no chance event. Stokes kept his fields up all day, catchers always placed in front of the bat and ready to pounce. So while Pakistan will feel they let a decent grip on proceedings slip through lapses in concentration, the result was not entirely their own doing.
Stokes also juggled his resources shrewdly, despite Liam Livingstone being off the field all day with a knee problem and his attack lacking any pace to transcend the surface without Mark Wood in the side. Even during a grinding afternoon session Babar dominated like the modern-day master he is, the Pakistan captain was kept on his toes by some well-concocted variety.
It was a typically glossy century from Babar, an eighth in Test cricket that also took him past 1,000 runs on home soil in his 14th innings. Alongside Saud Shakeel, a debutant at No 5 who hunkered down in a stand of 123, Babar oozed class and on the stroke of tea he cut Stokes through cover to complete the milestone.
A bumper crowd, less partisan than many may assume, produced a deafening yet joyful roar to again underline the importance of international cricket’s return.
Babar had taken his side to 411 for three at tea and thoughts of parity or even a first-innings lead were starting to percolate. But Saud feathering Ollie Robinson’s fourth ball behind after the resumption kickstarted a session in which Pakistan lost four for 88. Naseem Shah, the No 8, was the last to fall before sunset, holing out to a fine sliding catch from Leach in the deep that embodied England’s adhesive hands.
Leach was never far from centre stage. As well as two catches and helping Root shine the ball with his scalp, the left-arm spinner claimed two wickets in the morning and had racked up 42 overs by the close. Once Jacks had removed Shafique for the initial incision, Leach had Imam caught at long-on for an excellent 121 and trapped the experienced Azhar Ali lbw for 27.
The wicket of Azhar was again a case of Stokes making a surprise move. Anderson had just got the old ball to offer a flicker of reverse before lunch and batting briefly required watchfulness. But Stokes dispensed with it once 80 overs were up, Leach then sliding the harder replacement into Azhar’s pads as the right-hander looked to manoeuvre it to the leg side.
It may well be this much-criticised pitch defeats both sides. But by following their aggressive batting with a combination of perspiration and innovation, England went into the fourth day doing their utmost to overcome this.