Osman Samiuddin is at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, covering the first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka erased Pakistan’s lead and started building their own during the final session of the third day at the Zayed Cricket stadium. They lost three wickets in the session, but they were the critical ones, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene dismissed off successive balls during a wonderful spell by Bilawal Bhatti.
Off what turned out to be the last ball of the day they lost the man who had scripted the resistance, Kaushal Silva. That left Sri Lanka on 186 for four, a lead of just seven runs and the middle order wide open.
Bhatti’s spell jerked Pakistan into life, reigniting their belief that the Test was their’s to be won. Bhatti was brilliant, foregoing subtly and instead opting to bowl as quick and short as he could. He was both quick and fearsomely short.
He lulled Sangakkara into chasing a fullish length delivery, a quick edge well-taken by Younis Khan at first slip. Off the first ball of his next over, he got one to bounce a little more, catching Jayawardene’s glove as the ball ballooned to gully. He peppered Dinesh Chandimal with a series of throat balls though Sri Lanka’s Twenty20 captain did well to survive the test.
That burst undid just a little of the excellent work of Silva and Sangakkara. The pair put on 99 together, coasting along so comfortably and at enough of rate to erase the vast bulk of Pakistan’s 179-run lead.
Silva was particularly impressive in notching up a maiden Test fifty. His off-side game is particularly polished, evident in regular drives square and through covers. Against Saeed Ajmal his nifty footwork came to the fore, dancing down and driving him through extra cover twice. As impressive was his patience; by day’s end he had batted nearly four and a half hours.
Sangakkara was the danger for Pakistan. His record against them is well-documented now and here he showed why. He played Ajmal with consummate ease. The others he picked runs off steadily, driving and cutting the fast bowlers whenever width offered itself.
He had a reprieve when on 29, reviewing and successfully overturning a leg-before decision but was flawless otherwise, until his eventual fall.
Silva and Chandimal stood firm, almost until the close and had Silva not fallen to Junaid Khan, they might have claimed another session’s victory.
Sri Lanka continued to build on their good work in the morning on the third afternoon of the first Test at Zayed Cricket stadium, eating into Pakistan’s 179-run lead. Though their opening pair were separated, Dimuth Karunaratne and Kaushal Silva again resisted long enough to suggest Sri Lanka can hope.
At tea, Silva was still at the crease with a comfortable-looking Kumar Sangakkara and Sri Lanka 71 for one.
It was a grinding kind of session, not high on thrills but more in keeping with the rhythms of a game that goes five days. Sri Lanka has had almost as many problems with their opening combination as Pakistan: this pair is the sixth they have tried in the last 10 Tests.
In the first innings though they had put on 57 and began today in similar fashion. Junaid Khan and Rahat Ali tested them early on. A couple of edges fell short of slips, there were plenty of plays and misses. But in between there were enough pleasing strokeplay - in defence as well as attack - that suggested durability.
Karunaratne showed off his leg-side strength with a nice clip through midwicket off Bilawal Bhatti, before driving him past mid-off. Silva, who looked more secure, drove Rahat through covers, and then drove Bhatti squarer.
Pakistan’s first wicket did not arrive until after the drinks break, Karunaratne bowled by a lovely delivery swinging and seaming in to him.
That brought Sangakkara to the crease and as opposed to his scratchy first innings, he looked as he so often looks against Pakistan: unbreachable. There was an airy waft over gully for four, but he was impeccable thereafter.
Silva grew in confidence as the session wore on and it was only when Saeed Ajmal was introduced, in the 24th over of the innings, that the serenity was even mildly disturbed. He drew a couple of hopeful leg-before appeals but as Sri Lanka reached tea without further loss, now 108 runs behind, they had won two sessions in a row.
Sri Lanka’s coach Graham Ford said Wenesday night the plan for today was simple: get some wickets quickly, score some big runs. On the the third morning of the first Test at Zayed stadium, the first part of the plan came to fruition.
Rangana Herath led the way, but every member of Sri Lanka’s attack chipped in, taking six wickets for just 60 runs to bowl Pakistan out for 383. That was a massive victory, given how dominant Pakistan were looking at the end of the second day. The lead is still a substantial one, at 179 runs, but Sri Lanka will draw comfort from their last Test here.
It followed a remarkably similar pattern, before Kumar Sangakkara and some poor Pakistani catching allowed the tourists to draw the game after conceding a similar lead.
Sri Lanka began their work early. The shot from Asad Shafiq was a loose one, clipping to midwicket in the morning’s fourth over, but if anyone deserved a gift of a wicket it was Suranga Lakmal who has bowled well throughout the innings without due reward.
Adnan Akmal was his usual skittish self, but when he went, poking tamely to gully a little before drinks, Sri Lanka were in the groove.
Misbah-ul-Haq, not out overnight after his hundred, did not look like taking the lead away, sweeping Herath square for four right after drinks. Bilawal Bhatti added a few runs but once he was gone - on referral - edging behind off Angelo Mathews, the tail was exposed.
And Herath took advantage beautifully and swiftly. A key figure before the series, he has been blunted by Younis Khan and Misbah in this innings, but against lesser batsmen he faced little resistance. Misbah put him away over midwicket for six, but once Herath had Saeed Ajmal on strike, he was home. He trapped Ajmal leg-before and then bowled Rahat Ali next ball.
Junaid Khan prevented the hat-trick but Misbah perished for 135 off the first ball of Herath’s next over, caught at long-off as he attempted some quick, last gasp runs.
Sri Lanka’s openers survived the one over remaining before lunch, taking two off the lead: they still have plenty of work to do, but they at least have the confidence of a good morning behind them.
Check back regularly with https://www.thenationalnews.com/sport as Osman Samiuddin will continue with live updates through out the day from Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi.