There was a period, as the heavy Abu Dhabi sun danced shadows across the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, when the balance of this tightly-contested match looked likely to swing in England's favour. But the loss of three key wickets for just nine runs at the end of the evening session left the outcome of the second Test evenly balanced, with England 50 runs behind and five wickets remaining.

For most of Thursday's play the wicket played true to form and, where England's fast bowlers found their length early to dismiss the Pakistan tail with just a single run added to their overnight score, the home side's attack failed to zip with quite the same venom they demonstrated in Dubai.

The wicket of Strauss - dismissed cheaply once again - failed to precipitate a similar collapse to that of the first Test. Instead, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott set about slowly accumulating a dogged England response.

Their second wicket stand of 139 was garnered under patient circumstances as the wicket seemed to nullify the charms of Ajmal and the Pakistan spinners. But when Trott fell for 74, beaten by a wonderful ball from Rehman that drifted away from the right-hander after pitching and clipping the off-stump, England's middle-order looked alarmingly exposed.

Jonathan Trott
England\'s Trott prepares to hit the ball as Pakistan\'s Akmal watches during the second test cricket match in Abu Dhabi. REUTERS

Eleven overs later, Cook fell quite unexpectedly as he closed in on the 20th century of his Test career. The opener had played diligently and within his means since taking guard in the late morning, without ever gifting the opposition a chance. But the first time he erred against Ajmal proved critical as a doosra turned past his forward-defence and rapped him plumb on the pad.

The loss of two wickets brought Pietersen to the crease and the England No.4 once again struggled against the vagaries of spin, eventually falling for just 14 when he attempted to glance Ajmal through the leg side, only for the subsequent inside edge to carry off his pad to slip.

To cap off Pakistan's fight back, Ajmal claimed his third wicket with the penultimate ball of the day, nervously edging a stock delivery straight to slip.

England must now hope to at least match Pakistan's first innings score and back their bowlers to work their magic once again. But they may yet require a big partnership between Ian Bell and Matt Prior against the second new ball tomorrow morning. With the pitch likely to deteriorate further, the tourists will not fancy their chances batting fourth in a nervy run-chase.