England lost four wickets after tea, including three for Saeed Ajmal, to close day two of the second Test on 207-5 in reply to Pakistan's 257.
Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott shared a 139-run stand for the second wicket but both missed out on centuries as Pakistan hit back in the final session at Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium.
Trott was bowled by left-armer Abdur Rehman for 74 and Cook followed for 94, lbw to Rehman's spin partner Ajmal.
Ajmal (3-67) added the scalps of Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan late in the day to take some of the gloss off England's earlier good work.
At the start of the day Pakistan's last three wickets mustered a single run between them as they collapsed swiftly from a starting point of 256-7.
Stuart Broad (4-47) removed Misbah-ul-Haq (84) before his fellow seamer James Anderson (2-46) mopped up the final two wickets in the space of four balls.
Andrew Strauss (11) departed in the 14th over of England's reply, caught via bat and pad after a Mohammad Hafeez off-break bounced a little more than expected on a pitch already offering plenty of assistance for the slow bowlers.
Hafeez (1-40) conceded only 10 runs in as many overs up to lunch, and Ajmal was soon posing tough questions too.
Cook survived a scare on 27 in the last over of the morning when a sharp bat-pad chance just evaded short-leg off Hafeez, and Trott would have gone lbw on DRS for just 22 had Pakistan reviewed umpire Steve Davis' not-out decision.
Pakistan had no joy at all with DRS, eventually squandering both reviews for lbws against Trott just before and after he reached his 95-ball 50.
Trott and Cook rarely convinced for long against spin, and it was a moot point whether they were able to pick Ajmal's doosra - which was turning more than in Dubai last week but was marginally less dangerous as edges were missed and lbws harder to come by.
England cared not too much about all of that, though, as long as their second-wicket pair stayed together and continued chipping away at an ever-decreasing deficit.
They did so, in fact, until Trott failed to cover his stumps in front-foot defence and lost his off-bail to a fine delivery which Rehman (1-39) turned sharply from round the wicket.
Cook relied on his chief assets, concentration and shot selection, and was on course for his 20th Test hundred, which would have equalled the tally of his mentor and England batting coach Graham Gooch.
But he fell within a hit of the landmark when, after almost five hours and 220 balls at the crease, Ajmal turned one into his pad as he played forward to win an lbw verdict.
When Pietersen (14) also went to Ajmal before stumps, caught at slip via an inside-edged drive, Ian Bell and Morgan were left to survive a perilous passage of play - and it proved too much for Morgan (3), who edged the last ball of the day to slip off Ajmal.
Earlier, Pakistan's last three wickets went down in 15 minutes.
Broad (4-47) kickstarted a run of three wickets for no run in seven balls when he saw off Misbah for the addition of just a single to his overnight 83.
Once the Pakistan captain went, lbw in the second over to a Broad ball which nipped back in off the seam, Anderson took over to make short work of the tail.
He was responsible for the last two wickets in the same over, Ajmal lbw pushing forward and Umar Gul fencing a catch to second slip to be last out.