Third Test, The Oval (day three, stumps): England 233 & 221-9 v Pakistan 308 Match scorecard
Swann was one of several to fall to Ajmal in a dramatic evening session collapse
By Jamie Lillywhite
A magnificent Pakistan fightback saw England close day three of the third Test only 146 runs ahead at 221-9.
England had built a lead of 119 at the tea interval with seven wickets intact, as Alastair Cook (110) ended his run of poor form with his 13th Test century.
But they self-destructed in the final session, losing six wickets for 26.
Teenage left-arm paceman Mohammad Amir claimed 4-51 and spinner Saaed Ajmal bowled 30 successive overs for 4-71 before bad light ended play.
The potent pair dovetailed superbly and were well supported by wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal, only playing because of Zulqarnain Haider's fractured finger, who took four catches to pass 200 Test dismissals.
Cook's 110 exceeded his total from eight previous Test innings on home soil this summer.
It was certainly not the most aesthetically pleasing century, but for the 25-year-old it was one of the most significant of a Test career that began with a debut hundred against India in 2006.
It was also invaluable to England, for whom the portents were not good as Cook and nightwatchman James Anderson strode out to face a Pakistan attack in overcast and muggy conditions with their side still 69 runs in arrears.
Surprisingly, however, there was virtually no movement for the seam bowlers and with less than 40 minutes played Pakistan turned to the spin of Ajmal.
He claimed a wicket with his first delivery when some gentle turn resulted in Anderson feathering a catch which Akmal pouched smartly.
Cook had his share his share of luck in the early part of his innings, edging three times through the slip cordon for boundaries, the first two falling short of the fielders but the third inexplicably left by first and second slip to the disgust of bowler Wahab Riaz.
There was a huge cheer from an appreciative crowd when Cook went through for a single to reach 50 off 77 balls and take England into the lead.
A sumptuous cover drive for four followed and when England reached lunch 35 ahead with eight wickets intact, suddenly things were beginning to look brighter.
With Cook at the crease England looked in command
Cook was on 76 at the interval and with Jonathan Trot content to play second fiddle, he eventually reached his third century against Pakistan in bizarre circumstances, perhaps the first batsman to do so after a forward defensive shot back to the bowler.
For some reason, Mohammad Asif chose to pick the ball up and hurl it in the general direction of Akmal, but it sailed 10 feet over the keeper's head to the boundary to the delight of the crowd, and Cook sheepishly raised his arms in triumph.
The Essex left-hander departed when he was caught behind trying to leg-glance a ball from Riaz, a similar dismissal to one earlier in the series, but Kevin Pietersen hit three fours in a single Asif over as he and Trott saw it through to tea.
However, Pietersen's run of innings without a Test century extended to 25 when he was surprised by a perfect delivery from Ajmal bowling around the wicket, the ball turning in sharply to nip between bat and pad and rattle the top of the middle stump.
He went for 23 and Trott, who had blocked over 100 dot balls in reaching 36, chose to chase a wide one in the next over from Amir and spooned a catch to gully, leaving England only 120 ahead with five wickets remaining.
The collapse continued as Paul Collingwood played a flat-footed drive and edged through to the keeper, while Eoin Morgan was beaten by Ajmal's arm ball which drifted into another sizeable gap between bat and pad as the Irishman prodded forward.
Matt Prior, who looked in fine touch for his 84 in the first innings, followed for five when he edged an excellent delivery from Amir, which moved away off the seam from around the wicket.
Next to go was Graeme Swann, who will not have been happy to be bamboozled by fellow off-spinner Ajmal and it was no doubt a relief to the England players, although not the disgruntled spectators, when the umpires called a halt because of the light.
The amount of turn obtained by Ajmal will have offered encouragement to Swann but the size of the lead will not, and he will need an inspirational bowling display if Pakistan are not to cut England's lead in the series to 2-1.
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