England have already contended with plenty on this historic tour — from a virus and a Rawalpindi pitch as flat as a roti to the threat of smog and Abrar Ahmed in Multan.
But after the second day of this second Test, they were eyeing an unprecedented prize: a 2-0 lead in Pakistan, and with it a famous series triumph.
The chat in advance of this trip, England’s first here for 17 years, was how Bazball might fare in its first iteration on foreign turf.
Jack Leach (pictured) claimed his 100th test wicket as England cruised into control in Pakistan
Leach (left) took three wickets on day two extending his score for the tet match to 4-98
Then, after they overcame lifeless conditions to win the first Test with minutes to spare, rumours spread that Pakistan were preparing to square the series on a turning pitch, traditionally an English achilles heel in South Asia.
By finishing the second day on 202 for five in their second innings, thanks to 70s from Ben Duckett and Harry Brook, they provided their answer: 281 ahead on a surface showing no sign of easing, England were in near-complete control.
If they can turn their dominance into victory, it will go down as one of their greatest series wins, and vindication — if it’s even needed — of an approach that has got the world talking. Against the odds, England are winning games and friends at the same time.
Leach took Mohammad Rizwan’s (right) wicket with a superbly bowled piece of spin on day two
Ben Duckett (right) opened for England, extending their first innings score by 79 runs
Their innings proceeded at 4.12 an over, funereal by the standards they have set themselves. But they had earned the right to dictate the tempo after a remarkable morning session brought eight Pakistani wickets for 60 runs in 28.3 overs.
Central to the mayhem was Jack Leach, with four for 98, but there were also two in an over for the occasional off-breaks of Joe Root — nominated by Ben Stokes before the series as his second spinner — and a couple of late strikes for Mark Wood, who has breached 97mph in his first Test since March.
They were all as superb as Pakistan were supine, but the collapse was kick-started by one of the balls of the tour from Ollie Robinson, whose introduction was delayed until the 35th over.
Harry Brook (left) arrived at the crease to strike an equally impressive 74-not-out
Babar Azam, the modern giant of Pakistani batting, was standing between England and a meaningful lead. A century in the first Test already under his belt, he had moved ominously to 75, carrying his team’s fate with him.
Robinson’s second ball shaped in to the right-handed Babar, then seamed through his defences to hit middle and off — the Zing bails lighting up the murk like a visual exclamation mark. Pakistan were 142 for three.
More to the point, they had been struck in the solar plexus. From there, it was a rout, the innings unravelling as quickly as the Multan police’s attempts to marshal the local traffic.
Robinson’s five-over spell yielded only two singles, and Leach claimed his 100th Test wicket when Saud Shakeel’s leg-side loft was brilliantly intercepted on the run by Jimmy Anderson. He then bowled a strangely becalmed Mohammad Rizwan with a beauty that pitched on leg and hit middle and off.
Brook batted with maturity and skill and Ben Stokes (right) kept him company until the close
With the score marooned on 169, Mohammad Nawaz chipped him tamely to short extra cover, before Root winkled out Agha Salman and Mohammad Ali in his first over of the day. Wood polished things off, even if England were slightly delayed by a last-wicket stand of 23. No matter: this felt like the decisive passage of the Test, and therefore the series.
On this pitch, a lead of 79 was gold dust, though England quickly lost Zak Crawley, chancing a suicidal single to Abrar, for three, and Will Jacks, promoted to give Ollie Pope a breather after nearly 63 overs behind the stumps, for four.
His dismissal, bowled on the sweep by Abrar, formed the start of another subplot, as England batted in conventional fashion — partly as there was so much time left, partly because they wanted Pakistan’s chase to begin on a surface closer to three days old than two.
Neither did they want to hand Abrar another confidence-boosting glut of wickets ahead of next week’s series finale. Regardless, Pakistan’s new mystery spinner added a second when Root’s paddle-sweep was brilliantly caught at short leg by Abdullah Shafique to end a stand of 54 with Duckett.
Duckett had insisted after his first-innings 63 that, in these conditions, the sweep was his forward defensive — a philosophy that served him well during the seven-match T20 series here in September. Now he and Brook added 68, before Duckett became Abrar’s 10th victim of his debut Test, bowled for 79 by one that kept low. It had been another high-class knock by a player who has shone on his second crack at the highest level.
When Pope ran himself out for four, setting off for a single before it had beaten Nawaz in the covers, England were 155 for five, and led by 234 — useful, if not decisive. But Brook batted with maturity and skill, and Stokes kept him company until the close, by which time the advantage was the exact size of England’s first-innings score.
The last time England played a Test in Multan, in 2005, they lost by 22 runs after blowing a first-innings lead bigger than the one they had here. Stokes’s team, you suspect, will not allow a repeat.