Pakistan 327 for 4 (Younis 136, Misbah 105*) lead Sri Lanka 204 by 123 runs
Abu Dhabi: The two times Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan had batted together against Sri Lanka before, they had added 130 and 100. Today, they improved that stat further with a 218-run stand for the fourth wicket that flattened Sri Lanka after an encouraging start, and gave Pakistan a solid first-innings lead. The partnership came at a crucial juncture when the game was in the balance and ensured Pakistan took a firm grip of the Abu Dhabi Test. During its course, Younis drew level with Javed Miandad by scoring his 23rd century – his sixth against Sri Lanka – while Misbah, unbeaten at the end of the second day, crossed the 100-mark for the fifth time in Tests.
Sri Lanka had a 121-run buffer when Pakistan’s third wicket fell and with run rate taking a dip just before lunch, a wicket or two would have given Sri Lanka a chance to limit Pakistan. However, just as the lunch interval transformed the Pakistan bowlers on the first day, it had a transformational effect on their batsmen today.
Pakistan’s two most experienced batsmen had scored 38 in 15.4 overs before lunch in a typically slow and solid manner, but switched gears in the second session to add 130 runs in 33 overs. It pepped up a crawling innings to an energetic rate of 3.17 at tea. Younis served the first statement of intent, punching a length delivery firmly, and in the air, through mid-off in the second over after lunch. Misbah followed suit soon, forcefully driving Sachithra Senanayake through wide mid-on.
Soon Pakistan crossed 150 and Sri Lanka brought Rangana Herath back. It was to no avail as Younis used his feet smartly – either to move forward or to move deep into the crease – to disturb the bowler’s lines. At the other end, Suranga Lakmal kept leaking runs: First, he was hit for consecutive boundaries by Misbah, then two overs later, for two more by Younis, the second four bringing up the batsman’s half-century.
Sri Lanka then followed up with spin at both ends, but that only resulted in more runs as neither spinner was allowed to settle. Pakistan made a quick dash towards the Sri Lankan score of 204 and went past it in the 65th over when Younis launched Herath for a six and four off consecutive deliveries. Younis, who had been keeping pace with Misbah before the strikes, took a lead and zoomed ahead, using the sweep and the cut shot to manoeuvre the ball. Three overs before tea, he carved Herath for another boundary through covers to bring up his century.
On a pitch that exposed Sri Lanka’s bowling frailties – even Herath appeared bereft of ideas, eroding the little successes they had in the morning session – the new-ball was the last chance to make a comeback, and that finally fetched them Younis’ wicket as he chopped a Shaminda Eranga delivery on. Younis, however, played the shot of the day shortly before his dismissal: a length delivery from Eranga was punched through covers, Younis had both his feet in air when he made contact with the ball and they continued to rise after. The shot was all about the force of the body recoil. And some talk about balance. Younis, who has now most runs in the UAE and the second most against Sri Lanka behind Sachin Tendulkar, continued to flourish till he got one from Eranga to cut in from a length and take the inside edge.
Misbah dragged his excellent run of 2013 to the new year and kept the pace up in the first half of his innings, even using the reverse sweep a few times, before shutting shop in the second half. He moved to 50 in 100 balls, then to 70 in 140 balls, but dawdled towards his century taking 101 balls for the last 30 runs. On a benign pitch, however, he remained immoveable. During the early part of his stand with Younis, Misbah remained sprightly, finding boundaries whenever a loose ball came through. He is 41 runs from the 3000-run mark and will eye the landmark as Pakistan look to convert the lead into a match-winning one on the third day.
The Sri Lanka bowlers worked hard all day, but in good batting conditions, they lacked bite to trouble the batsmen. Herath, the leader of the pack, toiled tirelessly for 31 overs, but never looked threatening. Senanayake, the other spinner, had a disappointing outing bowling his 18 overs for 66 runs. Sri Lanka had their moments early in the day though. In the first hour of the day, Kaushal Silva had dived full-length and low to his left to pluck a stunning catch to dismiss the in-form Mohammad Hafeez early in the day, while Ahmed Shehzad was forced into playing a tame pull by a perfect bouncer from Eranga. On the third day, the tired Sri Lanka players will have to reproduce some of that spark to limit the damage.