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James Anderson takes 5-fer as England get Pakistan out for 273

Jimmy Anderson held his head in his hands and slumped in disbelief at the agonising misfortune that kept him waiting for a magical milestone which seemed inevitable when he took the first four Pakistan wickets in this final Test.

Nothing appeared more certain than Anderson yesterday becoming the first seam bowler in Test history to reach 600 wickets when he quickly added Asad Shafiq to his three cheap victims from the second evening to leave Pakistan reeling at 30 for four.

After all, Anderson then just needed three more wickets for the biggest moment of even his incredible career and Pakistan looked out on their feet nearing the end of their two-month stay in the bio-secure bubble that has made Test cricket possible this summer.

But a remarkable sequence of events featuring a century of rare class from Azhar Ali, a barely believable passage of play that saw three dropped catches in 10 balls and then a return of our old bete noire bad light ensured the big moment will have to wait.

What late drama there was on this third day of the third Test and what frustration Anderson had to endure despite taking another step towards that incredible landmark by finally dismissing Mohammad Abbas with what became the last ball of the day.

That wicket, which gave him yet another five-wicket haul, saw Pakistan dismissed for 273 and Joe Root enforce the inevitable follow on but just as Anderson was gearing up for one more burst the umpires decided it was too dark to begin the Pakistan second innings.

In fairness, the light was quite a bit worse than that which held up so much of the second Test here last week and which led to a much-needed review of the regulations over stoppages that can be so self-defeating for Test cricket. This time the umpires were right.

But, with yet more rain forecast for today and tomorrow, it leaves the 38-year-old facing the painful possibility of finishing the Test summer on 598 wickets and with much uncertainty over how much cricket England will actually play this winter.

England will be desperate for it not to come to that. Not after their butter-fingered display that saw those three chances go down in quick succession to spoil what had up to them been an impressive display in the field, notably from Jos Buttler.

And all of them came off a figure in Anderson whose grumpiness was multiplied by the sheer incredulity of seeing his fielders letting him down time and again just when he needed them most.

Pakistan were eight down but with their captain in Azhar still there after reaching his 17th Test century when Anderson, equipped with the new Dukes ball, came running in for his 20th over in English conditions perfect for his vast repertoire of skills.

He was quickly too good for Azhar who, on 116, edged Anderson at a good height to Rory Burns at second slip only for the chance to go down. Two balls later it was the turn of Abbas to edge Anderson low to Zak Crawley only for the chance to go begging again.

The worst was still to come because in Anderson’s next over Azhar lobbed him straight to Stuart Broad at mid-on only for the ball to hit his wrist and escape his grasp.

Just to add salt to Anderson’s wounds Broad then picked it up and ran out Abbas with a brilliant direct hit but England barely celebrated the wicket and Broad could only offer a sheepish ‘sorry mate’ when the strike partners bumped fists at the end of the over.

Perhaps England will rue the strong reaction to last week’s light debacle because there is no question the players would have been off at that stage had last week’s rules been in place. 

But even though the light was far from perfect the drops were inexplicable.

There had been no trouble in taking chances earlier for Buttler who, just two Tests ago, was so dismayed at his wicketkeeping fumbles he feared they would end his Test career.

Yet now, buoyed by his match-winnings innings in that first Test and his career best 152 on Saturday in England’s 583 for eight declared, Buttler looked a different figure behind the stumps as he snapped up three chances of his own.

There were two athletic catches down the legside from Buttler – the second of them a quite outstanding one-handed grab to send back Shaheen Afridi off Broad – but what will particularly please him was a sharp catch standing up to Dom Bess that turned and bounced before taking Fawad Alam’s edge.

It had been hard work for England against a Pakistan side who could have been excused for capitulating but dug deep in the form of a partnership of 138 between Azhar and Mohammad Rizwan ended only by Buttler’s other catch, this time off Chris woakes.

This was some performance from Azhar who had been under enormous pressure after Pakistan had somehow contrived to lose the first Test and had again struggled to adapt to English conditions in another dismal series here with the bat.

But now, with a slight technical adjustment that saw him opening up his stance and helped by England wasting three reviews on him, Azhar passed 6,000 runs in Test cricket and went on to an unbeaten 141 before stepping out to open the second innings.

Azhar was soon hurrying towards the safety of the dressing room without even facing a ball but Pakistan still have it all to do, 310 behind.

If the weather relents England will undoubtedly win and wrap up the series 2-0 while Anderson will surely take at least the two wickets he needs to set the champagne corks popping. 

But if the elements haunt us again then we could be in for a long and difficult two days – none more so than a man with 598 Test wickets under his belt.

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