Pakistan's Azhar Ali puts England in danger at The Oval
Third Test, The Oval (day two, stumps): England 233 & 6-1 v Pakistan 308 Match scorecard
By Oliver Brett
Azhar Ali proved a thorn in England's side for most of the second day
Azhar Ali hit an excellent unbeaten 92 to put England in danger of losing their first Test of the summer.
England, seeking their seventh win in a row, were 6-1 in their second innings at stumps on day two of the third Test, still trailing Pakistan by 69 runs.
Ali's patient knock took the tourists to 308 with only spinner Graeme Swann (4-68) having much impact at The Oval.
And Andrew Strauss lasted just four balls before edging Mohammad Amir to Yasir Hameed at second slip.
It had been a miserable final session for the England captain, who had spilt a regulation catch at first slip off Steven Finn with last man Mohammad Asif on six.
Swann stays positive as England toil
Asif and Ali profited by adding an extra 30 runs (their last-wicket stand was 38 altogether), before Asif drove a catch to mid-off to give Swann his fourth wicket and deny his partner a chance of a maiden Test century.
Swann had a good day, taking his 100th Test wicket when dismissing Mohammad Yousuf for 56 and belatedly being added to the ICC player of the year long list.
But it was a poor day for England in general with their seam bowlers unable to extract much movement from a good batting wicket.
Alastair Cook, unbeaten on nought having faced two balls, is unlikely to sleep too easily, with plenty of judges reckoning a sixth straight failure in this series will cost him his place for the series finale at Lord's.
After Strauss's dismissal, James Anderson blocked 12 deliveries as nightwatchman, and England were hanging on desperately when the last delivery of the day was bowled.
With Pakistan having begun their reply solidly in Wednesday's evening session, England needed early wickets when day two began with Pakistan 48-1, and they got an immediate lift with the second ball of the morning when Finn had Hameed caught behind for 36.
Captain Salman Butt, having relinquished his opening position in an effort to find runs, arrived at the crease looking for his first double-figure score of the series.
He did get there, but only after getting off the mark with an edge just wide of third slip, and then seeing Eoin Morgan drop a straightforward chance at backward point off Anderson.
Butt pleased with Pakistan display
On 17, he went for a cut shot against Swann in the spinner's first over of the day, and although there was a big deflection, the ball travelled unerringly towards Prior's gloves, and after a juggle, the catch was claimed.
At 76-3, England were in the hunt to restrict Pakistan to a score inferior to their own, but nightwatchman Wahab Riaz, who had taken 5-63 on debut, was hard to shift.
It was not until he had added 34 runs in more than an hour with a rusty-looking Mohammad Yousuf that Riaz departed for 36, to the first ball of Swann's second spell.
Umpire Steve Davis gave a marginal lbw decision which Pakistan reviewed, but replays suggested the ball was just clipping off-stump.
Lunch arrived soon afterwards, with Pakistan 111-4 in what looked an evenly-contested match, but the tourists upped the tempo in the middle session, scoring 104 runs while losing just the one wicket, that of Yousuf.
The veteran batsman added 69 with Ali, and to begin with it was the younger of the two right-handers playing the more attractive shots, including one delectable back-foot drive through the covers off Finn to raise the fifty partnership.
Yousuf got caught up in the style stakes, and a cover-drive in the Middlesex seamer's next over was followed by a cunning deflection down to third man for two boundaries in two balls.
Pakistan were ominously positioned as he breezed past his fifty, looking like the player who scored 1,788 Test runs in the calendar year of 2006.
Yousuf started slowly but was playing beautifully when defeated by Swann
But, during a flat period for England, a wicket came their way as Swann beat Yousuf in the flight, the batsman went through with his drive, and hit an easy catch back to the bowler.
Swann had reached his 100th Test wicket in only one year and 251 days to put him third in the all-time list, behind India's Kapil Dav (one year and 105 days) and Mitchell Johnson of Australia (one year and 250).
He achieved the feat in the same number of Tests - 23 - it took Derek Underwood, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath to reach the milestone.
Shortly before tea - taken at 215-5 - Umar Akmal, an exciting batsman who has not yet fired in this series, lofted Swann down the ground for six and pulled him for four in the same over.
Umar continued to play his shots early in the final session in a stand worth 57 with Ali, but was wastefully run out for 38 when Morgan threw down the stumps from short range after Umar had been sent back by his partner, looking for a single that was not there.
With four wickets in hand, and a narrow lead established, Ali, now batting with Akmal's brother Kamran, dealt well with England's seamers as they took the second new ball.
Other Pakistan batsmen fared less well. Stuart Broad picked up the seventh wicket of the innings when Akmal skewed a catch to Morgan at point, but Ali, with a lovely square drive past point off the back foot, soon reached his half century.
More wickets followed as Broad had Mohammad Amir caught behind and Anderson made up for some indifferent stuff by producing a pearler to bowl Saeed Ajmal.
England were pretty much back on terms at that point - until Strauss's dropped catch and his early wicket to a ball that did not do an awful lot - left Pakistan in excellent shape.
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