Pakistan are currently third in the International Cricket Council standings, with Australia on top. But they could rise to the summit if Australia lose their ongoing series in Sri Lanka and Pakistan themselves triumph in England.
The first part of that equation moved nearer to reality Friday when Australia, already 1-0 down in a three-match campaign, were left staring at defeat on an extraordinary second day of the second Test in Galle at 25 for three chasing a mammoth 413 for victory.
Pakistan, all square at 1-1 in a four-match series with England, had a better, if frustrating, time on Friday’s third day of the third Test at Edgbaston.
Having established a first-innings lead of 103, they saw England captain Alastair Cook (64 not out) and Alex Hales (50 not out) erase the deficit with an unbroken opening stand of 120 that left the hosts 17 runs in front at stumps.
For Pakistan coach Arthur, dramatically sacked by Australia on the eve of the 2013 Ashes series in England, events in Galle had not gone unnoticed.
“Misbah (Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq) and I did chat about it on the bus as we saw the Australian score from Sri Lanka,” Arthur told reporters after stumps at Edgbaston.
“I think the reality is if you want to be number one in the world you’ve got to be able to win away from home.
“We’ve got a tough schedule — England here, then New Zealand away in two Tests in November and then we go and play in Australia, Boxing Day (Melbourne), the New Year (Sydney) and the night Test in Brisbane.
“But for us to be where we want to be, those are the series we’ve got to win.”
Arthur, who made his international reputation as coach of his native South Africa, lamented a lack of support for left-arm quick Mohammad Amir and leg-spinner Yasir Shah on Friday.
Sohail Khan, who Arthur said was prone to inaccuracy along with fellow seamer Rahat Ali because their front arm fell away or was “lost” in delivery, marked his first Test in five years with an impressive five for 96 in England’s first innings 297 at Edgbaston.
But he tired markedly in a return of none for 40 in eight overs on Friday. “It is a real concern,” said Arthur. “He’s got to back up. I thought he bowled exceptionally well in the first innings but the key is you’ve got to do it both innings.”
The coach added: “Mohammad Amir bowled outstandingly well tonight (Friday). Yasir did the same. We just need a little bit of support for those two.”
Pakistan’s top-order have struggled in England. But Thursday saw a second-wicket stand of 181 between Azhar Ali, whose 139 was his first Test century outside of Asia, and Sami Aslam (82).
Left-handed opener Aslam’s highest Test score was particularly impressive as it came in the 20-year-old’s first innings of this series and just his third match at this level.
“That was real Test batting from Sami and Azhar,” said Arthur. “The lessons we’ve learnt from the tour, they were all put into place. They left well, they made England bowl at them.”
Arthur added: “Sami played outstandingly well for a young boy. He hasn’t had many opportunities this tour, but he’s worked so hard in the nets, he’s trained the house down.”
The Pakistan coach regretted his side “lack an all-rounder — we lack a Chris Woakes” after the paceman led England’s attack with three for 79 in 30 overs on his Warwickshire home ground.
Woakes then put his feet up while Cook and Hales kept Pakistan at bay. “Going into that innings, we were behind the eight ball — 100 runs behind in any game is quite a decent margin,” said Woakes. “For them to cancel that deficit out the way they have, looking pretty solid and not like giving any chances, was crucial.”