ABU DHABI: England captain Alastair Cook slugged a record-extending 28th test ton and Ian Bell a half-century as the tourists reached 290-3 against Pakistan at the close of the third day of the first test on Thursday.
With Cook leading the way, England reduced their arrears to 243 after Pakistan had declared on 523-8 the previous afternoon.
With two days remaining and 17 wickets still potentially to fall, a draw looks the probable outcome, although Wahab Riaz’s removal of Bell (63) and Mark Wood (4) in successive overs near the close again put the hosts in the ascendancy.
England begun the morning on 56-0, with Cook and Moeen Ali — England’s seventh opening pair since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012 — in obdurate mood.
A maiden first over was followed by 26 runs in the following six as Pakistan’s twin attack of spinner Zulfiqar Babar and paceman Wahab found little joy.
Another quick, Imran Khan, gave Pakistan a morning breakthrough, dismissing Moeen for 35 as an outside edge carried to wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed to reduce England to 116-1.
Cook, unbeaten on 168, and Bell (63) dug in, albeit at a soporific run rate, with England adding just 17 to the scoreboard in the final 14 overs before lunch.
Abu Dhabi’s flat pitch provided bowlers with another day of toil and little for the hundreds of Pakistan fans to cheer until that late flourish. Cook, one of four England survivors from a 3-0 whitewash versus Pakistan in 2012, appeared determined to make amends.
A drive through extra cover for four brought up his ton off 180 balls, taking the 30-year-old five clear of Kevin Peterson at the top of the list of England test centurions.
Cook had a narrow escape shortly after. Trying to sweep, the England skipper only found air as he lunged forward and Zulfiqar’s ball struck his pad low.
Pakistan called for a review but Hawk-Eye indicated the ball would have missed leg-stump.
Zulfiqar was again cursing his luck when Cook, on 149, skied a sweep to Fawad Alam at backward square, but the stooping substitute fielder fumbled the catch.
The sweltering heat led Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq to rotate his attack. Six bowlers were used in the morning session alone, although Zulfiqar (36 overs) carried the main burden as sole frontline spinner following Yasir Shah’s late injury.
Zulfiqar’s figures were 0-67 from 38 overs, Misbah seemingly content to slow England’s scoring.
No wickets have fallen to spinners this test. Bell registered his 46th test half-century by dispatching Rahat Ali’s short delivery for four, a rare moment of swagger from a veteran who has endured a difficult 2015.
His innings ended with a shanked drive into Mohammad Hafeez’s grateful hands at backward point, while Mark Wood (4) lasted only seven balls before playing on.
The three-match series heads to Dubai next for the second test from Oct. 22 with Sharjah hosting the third contest from Nov. 1.