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Graeme Swann kept England in contention in the third Test against Pakistan at the Oval on Thursday by capturing his 100th Test wicket during a day of attritional but absorbing cricket.
Swann finished with four for 68 in Pakistans first-innings 308,a lead of 75,with Azhar Ali stranded on his highest Test score of 92 not out. The lead looked all the more challenging when captain Andrew Strauss was caught in the slips off the fourth ball of the first over from Mohammad Aamer for four.
England,who lead 2-0 in the four-match series,finished the day on six for one. For once in the series,Englands pace bowlers struggled to make an impression on a Pakistan top order bolstered by the return of Mohammad Yousuf from a short-lived retirement.
Swann bowled unchanged between lunch and tea to dismiss captain Salman Butt (17),nightwatchman Wahab Riaz (27) and Yousuf (56). Yousufs dismissal caught and bowled gave Swann 100 Test wickets in 23 matches. Pakistan passed Englands meagre first-innings total of 233 with five wickets still in hand. But after Umar Akmal had run himself out for 38,including a straight six off Swann,the batting collapsed in familiar fashion.
Stuart Broad and James Anderson ran through the tail with the second new ball but Pakistan managed to go past the 300 mark for the first time in two Tests. As always,Yousuf had plenty of time to play the ball despite his lack of match practice,stroking eight boundaries including six fours off Steven Finn. He refused to take any risks until Swann enticed him into a uppish drive which the bowler accepted gleefully. Yousuf,35,remains the record holder for most runs in a calendar year.
Finn made an early breakthrough with his second ball of the day when Yasir Hameed was caught behind for 36 after an indecisive wave at a good length ball. Butt,who was dropped on four by Eoin Morgan at backward point,square-drove Swanns first ball for a boundary but then edged the second to wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
While wickets fell all around him,Azhar batted with maturity and calm good sense. He struck 14 boundaries in more than four hours at the crease and shared a last-wicket partnership of 38 with Mohammad Asif (8).
Brief scores: England first innings 233; Pakistan first innings 308 (A Ali 92 n.o.,M Yousuf 56,Y Hameed 36,U Akmal 38; G Swann 4/68,S Broad 2/72,J Anderson 2/79); England 2nd Innings 6/1 in 3 overs (A Strauss 4; M Aamer 1/5)