Abu Dhabi: Bilawal Bhatti and Junaid Khan picked up three wickets late on the third day to put Pakistan in a dominant position at stumps on third day despite Sri Lanka erasing the first-innings deficit. Bhatti removed the experienced duo of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene in successive deliveries, while Junaid dismissed the set Kaushal Silva off the last ball of the day to put a win within sights.
A 99-run second-wicket stand between Sangakkara and Silva was reviving memories of Sri Lanka’s second-innings fightback two years ago when a double-century from Sangakkara helped them wipe off the 314-run deficit and save the Test. It was a similar determined response from Sri Lanka after conceding a 179-run lead. Sangakkara was unfazed and Silva was accumulating runs at his own pace, both going past their half-centuries.
But just when it seemed that Sri Lanka’s fortunes were on the rise, an inspired spell from Bhatti pulled the rugs from underneath. In the final delivery of Bhatti’s second over after the last drinks break, Sangakkara was drawn into a drive, but could only edge it as the ball moved away at the last instance. Younis Khan, at first slip, dived to his right and swooped a good low catch. In the next over, off the first ball, Jayawardene got one that kicked up from a length, hit the shoulder of the bat and lobbed up for the fielder at gully. Unplayable. It also meant that Jayawardene had edged three successive deliveries from Bhatti in the Test (the first one, in the first innings, was a no-ball).
Bhatti continued to trouble Dinesh Chandimal with pacy deliveries – one of them, a bouncer at 145 kph that hit the bat handle. But Silva, who had worked hard for his 81, helped Sri Lanka into lead. He looked set to take to take the fight to the fourth day, but couldn’t survive the last over as Junaid edging the third delivery to the wicketkeeper.
For much of the day though, it had been Sri Lanka who had managed to claw their way back into the match. The top three batsmen continued the good work started by their bowlers, who picked up Pakistan’s remaining six wickets before lunch on the third day.
Both Suranga Lakmal and Shaminda Eranga, fresh after a night’s rest, found the right lengths and repeatedly got the ball to deviate to trouble the batsmen. They found some help from the pitch too. The surface had retained the greenish tinge from the first day, but there were a number of indents – created by the quicks over the last two days – which the two Sri Lankan seamers hit consistently.
A circumspect Asad Shafiq flicked Lakmal to square leg, where Silva took a smart diving catch. He had added only a solitary run to his overnight score of 12. Adnan Akmal didn’t last long either edging Eranga to gully. Bilawal Bhatti, the debutant, gave Misbah company for 27 runs before perishing against the gentle medium pace of Angelo Mathews as he got a faint edge to the keeper.
Misbah was troubled by the seam movement as Lakmal beat him both with incoming and outgoing deliveries. The first boundary of the day on the off side came through Misbah’s outside edge which was followed by an uncharacteristic attempt to slog a length ball. He continued to play and miss deliveries throughout the first hour, with some hitting the shoulder of the bat.
It was only when Rangana Herath was introduced that Misbah started looking comfortable. He reverse-swept the first ball from the spinner, then got a four with a conventional sweep in the same over. He also slogged Herath over deep midwicket for his only six of the innings, before finally being caught at long-on, trying to repeat the shot.
In response, the Sri Lanka openers stayed firm during a testing spell against the new ball to give the team its second solid start. As the score approached 50, Karunaratne was dismissed by a Junaid delivery that sneaked in between the bat and pad to strike the top of off stump. But a patient Silva kept the bowlers at bay with his tight defence and compact strokeplay. Ten of his 11 boundaries were on the off side – the cover drive being his most profitable shot – as he brought up his maiden half-century in 113 balls.
Silva had the solid Sangakkara with him for company. Sangakkara, despite the pitch showing signs of dual nature, scored an effortless half-century – his 43rd. During a 99-ball stay that included six boundaries, he did use a lifeline once after he was adjudged lbw early in the third session, the replays showing the ball had pitched outside the line of leg stump.
Sangakkara’s dismissal, though, opened the gates for Pakistan and they were quick to snatch the advantage. The onus will now be on Chandimal and Angelo Mathews to stretch the fight for Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka 204 and 186 for 4 (Silva 81, Sangakkara 55, Junaid 2-46) lead Pakistan 383 by seven runs