London: Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Aamer combined to spark a dramatic England collapse that left Pakistan contemplating victory in the third Test at The Oval here on Friday.
From 194 for three at tea, England lost six wickets for 26 runs to be 221 for nine when bad light forced an early close on the third day.
That left England, looking for a 3-0 lead in this four-match series, just 146 runs ahead with one second innings wicket standing.
Off-spinner Ajmal, who bowled 30 overs unchanged, had four wickets for 71 runs and left-arm quick Aamer four for 51.
Stuart Broad was six not out and Steven Finn nought not out.
Earlier, opener Alastair Cook ended a poor run of scores with an innings of 110 but that was all but eclipsed by England’s final session slump.
Ajmal started the collapse with a clever piece of bowling.
From around the wicket, he beat Kevin Pietersen’s defensive push forward with a fine off-break as the batsman, who’d failed to add to his tea score of 23, appeared to play for Ajmal’s ‘doosra’ only to be bowled between bat and pad.
Five balls later, 194 for four became 195 for five.
Jonathan Trott played a supporting role during a third-wicket stand of 116 with Cook.
Having taken three-and-a-half hours to make 36, Trott needed a big score to justify all that time at the crease but, playing a rare attacking shot, he was caught in the gully by Azhar Ali off teenage paceman Aamer.
Paul Collingwood (three) was caught behind flat-footedly cutting at Aamer and then Eoin Morgan (five) was bowled by a straight Ajmal delivery.
Matt Prior, who’d dug England out of a hole in the first innings with an unbeaten 84, couldn’t prevent further collapse and when Graeme Swann was bowled by Ajmal, England were 220 for nine.
But, with Pakistan needing just one more wicket to end the innings, the umpires then called a halt because the switched-on floodlights were creating shadows across the pitch.
Aamer took three wickets for 10 runs in 7.2 overs after tea and Ajmal, in the same period, three for 16 in eight.
Essex left-hander Cook had managed just 106 runs in his eight previous Test innings, at home to Bangladesh and Pakistan.
But the selectors’ decision to keep faith with him ahead of England’s Ashes defence in Australia later this year was rewarded with the 25-year-old’s 13th hundred in 59 Tests.
Nought not out overnight, Cook started scratchily on Friday in overcast conditions that threatened to provide plenty of assistance for Pakistan’s swing bowlers and he was fortunate when a cut off Mohammad Asif flew between the slips.
Poor footwork has plagued Cook for several matches but two textbook cover-driven fours off Aamer, where he got his foot right to the pitch, suggested he’d remedied the problem.
Cook went to his hundred in bizarre fashion. He pushed the ball defensively to Asif only for the bowler, trying to lob it back, to send it way over Kamran Akmal’s head for four overthrows.
Not that Cook cared as he celebrated a hundred made in just over three hours off 148 balls with 15 boundaries.
But, as if to even things up, Cook fell in tame fashion when a thin leg-side deflection off debutant left-arm quick Wahab Riaz was caught by wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal.
England resumed on six for one, 69 behind, and Ajmal started as he meant to go on when, off his first ball on Friday, he had nightwatchman James Anderson caught behind.