Dubai: Pakistan's third-wicket pair of Azhar Ali and Younis Khan batted skilfully through the afternoon session to put the conditions into perspective, and revive expectations of their first whitewash in a Test series against England.
Younis was more like his old self as he reached his first half-century of the series, working England's spinners through the leg side in composed fashion. It has only been two months since he took an unbeaten double hundred off Bangladesh in Chittagong, and England regard him as the greatest danger in the Pakistan top order.
Azhar and Younis met England's spinners confidently, with the record number of lbws for a three-Test series, 37 and rising, temporarily forgotten as the ball rarely struck pad. Both batsmen read the line confidently, and their footwork was crisp. On the rare occasions when Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann matched the turn found by Pakistan's left-arm spinner, Abdur Rehman, the batsmen had the skill to adjust to the ball off the pitch.
It all possessed a different feel to the pre-lunch session. Six more wickets tumbled on the second morning, with England scraping a first-innings lead of 42 and then removing Pakistan's openers in quick succession. Taufeeq Umar's technical frailties were again evident as James Anderson bowled one from wide on the crease to have him caught at the wicket. Anderson's 249th Test wicket took him clear of Matthew Hoggard and into sixth place in England's all-time list of Test wicket-takers. Mohammad Hafeez, after striking Panesar cleanly for a straight six, fell to an over-ambitious sweep.
England's batting frailties are now so extreme that their average of 17.84 runs per wicket is currently lower than in any completed series since the 19th century, an era when the roller was probably pulled by a horse, if they could find a horse, and the art of groundsmanship extended to little more than pushing the stumps in.
England began the series fretting about the mysterious spin bowling of Saeed Ajmal but they are ending it baffled by Rehman, who is about as conventional as it is possible to be. Rehman took five wickets for the second successive innings as Pakistan restricted England's first-innings lead.
Rehman, a canny left-arm spinner enjoying unforeseen riches in his late-blooming career, had performed the sajda on the outfield in Abu Dhabi when he took five Test wickets in an innings for the first time. Once again he fell to his knees, this time in Dubai, as he finished with 5 for 40 to bring a swift end to England's first innings.
Not much had changed after a night's sleep. It took Pakistan 12 overs to remove England's last four wickets. They won in Abu Dhabi after trailing by 70 runs. This time the deficit was smaller.
England, resuming on 104 for 6, lost a wicket to the last ball of the first over. Anderson, the night-watchman, propped forward and Rehman turned one through the gate to bowl him. It was the sort of respectable, turning delivery he has produced on countless occasions and suddenly it looked unplayable.
Stuart Broad hinted at positive intent but he was lbw to Ajmal after Pakistan turned to DRS to overturn Steve Davis' not-out decision. Broad was straight back to the laptop, analysing his dismissal, seeking answers. Another centimetre and he would have been outside the line. Umpires would never give anybody out on such small margins; technology does. Or at least it does until the guidelines are subtly shifted.
Andrew Strauss' resistance ended at eight-down, to his most adventurous shot. He had extended his overnight 41 to 56 when he came down the pitch to hit Rehman over the legside and was stumped by Adnan Akmal. It was prolonged reconnaissance for the England captain, 150 balls in all. Graeme Swann swung, was caught in the deep and that was that, another England innings perishing in no time.
There is nothing dreary anymore about Test cricket in Asia. Gone are the days of batting inertia with batsmen relying on little more than a thrust forward and a big front pad. Batsmen have to think on their feet and the game is decidedly more interesting as a result.
Claims that DRS has become a blight on the game are excessive, a convenient stance for the technophobes. If there is an imbalance all the ICC has to do is shift the parameters slightly. A batsman need not be judged to be in line if just a sliver of the ball touches the virtual carpet running down the width of the stumps. Neither need any batsman be adjudged lbw, as Kevin Pietersen was on the first day, if Hawk-Eye shows that the ball would have clipped the stumps by 2mm. It is barely enough to knock the bails off.