Joe Root was cast yet again as England’s best hope, in their unlikely mission to save the second Test against Pakistan in Dubai.
Amid uncertainty about the extent of Alastair Cook’s apparent discomfort, and after the early loss of both the captain and his fellow opener Moeen Ali, England’s chances of batting for more than another four sessions were slim indeed by late afternoon on day four.
But in only notional pursuit of a world-record 491 to win, Root shared a century stand with Ian Bell and and was still there at stumps on 59 out of 130 for three following his first innings 88- he represented reason to wonder if it might be possible after all to close out a stalemate on a wearing pitch.
It was Root’s 12th 50-plus Test score this year, an England record, beating Keith Fletcher’s 11 in 1973.
And he will continue what is hoped will be the long haul back alongside Yorkshire team mate Johnny Bairstow, who was 6no at the close, following his first innings 46
Root and Bell calmed nerves back on the pitch, and frustrated Pakistan - who had declared on 354 for six following Younus Khan’s 31st Test century.
England’s attempted rearguard started poorly when they lost Moeen for a single in the fifth over.
The manner of his departure, as England’s search for a long-term opening partner for Cook, was alarming too.
Cook’s physical well-being was a further worry, to the naked eye, moving in evident pain throughout his short innings. But England’s medics insisted they had no concerns, and reported no injury.
England assistant coach Paul Farbrace said: “I’m not aware of any injury, except for the amount of hours he’s spent hunched over a bat handle scoring thousands of runs,” he said.
“He never looks the best mover anyway. He is someone who from time-to-time does get treatment on his back, but honestly it’s not something we are spending time talking about.
“He needs to manage himself and he does that really well.”