Sharjah: James Taylor hit a maiden half-century in his comeback match to bolster England to 222-4 at stumps on the second day of the third Test against Pakistan in Sharjah on Monday. The 25-year-old, playing his first Test since 2012, kept Pakistan at bay with an unbeaten 74 and found an able ally in Jonny Bairstow (37 not out) as the two put on an invaluable 83 for the unbroken fifth-wicket stand at Sharjah Stadium.
James Taylor celebrates his 50 yesterday. Pic/AFP
That leaves England just 12 behind Pakistan's first-innings total of 234 with six wickets intact as they hope to gain a decisive lead in their bid to level the three-match series. Pakistan lead the series 1-0 after winning the second Test in Dubai while the first Test ended in a draw in Abu Dhabi. Taylor kept England in the hunt as he survived a keen tussle between bat and ball, with Pakistan's spin duo of Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar threatening to take wickets.
But Taylor, playing his first Test since his two debut Tests against South Africa three years ago, batted with resolve, using his feet and sweeping to blunt the spin. He pushed paceman Wahab Riaz for a single to reach his first half century off 100 balls. He has so far hit six boundaries during his 141-ball fight. When Taylor walked in England were struggling at 97-3 after Alastair Cook (49) and Joe Root -- their two key batsmen -- had been dismissed.
Taylor added 42 for the fourth wicket with Ian Bell (40) to steady the innings as Pakistan attacked through both pace and spin. For Pakistan, Shah took 2-79 while Babar went wicket-less in his 25 overs and even a second new ball at 181-4 failed to dislodge the Taylor-Bairstow partnership.
"I think the bowlers were outstanding to bowl Pakistan out in a day and today was a better day to bat and obviously we wanted to get as close as we can and obviously now it's to try and get past them," said Bell, who had praise for Taylor. "He (Taylor) is a smart and a busy cricketer and what we saw today that he swept and used his feet and was busy and at the back end of the day he had a good partnership with Jonny."
Bell, who survived a confident caught behind appeal off Babar, was finally stumped off Shah. He hit two boundaries and a six during his three hour, 37 minute innings. Bell and Cook had steadied the innings with a 71-run stand for the second wicket. England had added three runs to their lunch score of 87-1 when Cook fell to a soft dismissal as he pushed a Shah delivery straight into the hands of short leg fielder Azhar Ali.
Cook hit four boundaries during his 119-ball knock. England had hoped Root would supplement Bell but the fast-rising batsman fell to a loose shot off paceman Rahat Ali and was smartly snapped low to his right by wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed. Resuming at 4-0, England lost Ali in the seventh over of the day when he miscued an aggressive shot off spinner Shoaib Malik and was caught in the slip by Younis Khan for 14.
Cook, who made an epic 263 in the drawn first Test in Abu Dhabi, looked in no trouble as he negotiated Pakistan's pace-cum-spin attack with confidence and appeared set for another half-century before he fell. Bell smashed Babar for a six early in the innings and ably supported his skipper, adding valuable runs for the second wicket partnership with Cook.