AbuDhabi: Angelo Mathews scored a career-best 116 to fashion a remarkable turnaround for Sri Lanka in the Abu Dhabi Test after they had conceded a 179-run lead to Pakistan in the first innings. He added 138 for the fifth wicket with Dinesh Chandimal, who missed out on his third Test century, and a further unbeaten 96 with Prasanna Jayawardene to transform a delicate situation on the fourth morning into, possibly, a match-winning one. Only thrice before have Pakistan been able to chase down a target in excess of 241, which is Sri Lanka’s current lead.
The Pakistan bowlers managed a solitary wicket in the entire day and, for most parts, appeared innocuous with the pitch hardly providing assistance to the seamers or spinners. Saeed Ajmal’s figures of 42-10-96-0 – the most overs he has bowled without picking up a wicket – highlighted the bowlers’ misery.
Mathews, though, stayed compact throughout the day, and apart from a brief period against the new ball, was largely untroubled. Unlike his counterattacking 91 in the first innings, he kept the lid on his aggressive instincts, choosing the slow and steady approach. His half-century came off 113 deliveries. His next 50 took even longer as he slowed down as he neared his first Test century as captain, taking 24 balls to score his last four runs.
Mathews did pounce on loose deliveries, scoring a six and 11 fours, six of which came against Bilawal Bhatti. He was quick on the pull the moment the seamers pitched it short, but otherwise preferred playing in the V, with a few of his fours coming in the region between mid-on and midwicket. Along with Chandimal, he laid the foundation for Sri Lanka’s revival.
Pakistan had assumed a dominant position on the third day after earning three wickets in the last session, and needed similar intensity today from Bhatti and Junaid Khan to restrict Sri Lanka’s lead. They opened with the same pair in their search for quick wickets, but both bowlers lacked the zip that had brought them success the previous day.
That made Sri Lanka’s job easier. Chandimal and Mathews collected 24 runs, without being troubled, in the 8.3 overs of Bhatti and Junaid’s first spell. They defended solidly and mainly focused on turning the strike over, choosing only once each to stamp their authority with powerful pulls. The two bowlers had to eventually be pulled out of the attack by Misbah-ul-Haq to keep them ready for the second new ball. That gave Sri Lanka more breathing space.
They slightly upped the rate in the last 10 overs with the old ball to accumulate 39 runs as the three bowlers used in that block – Ajmal, Rahat Ali and Mohammad Hafeez – failed to create even a minor flutter. Chandimal reached his fifth Test half-century in the 79th over with a glance to the fine leg boundary, and Mathews smashed a six that illustrated the two batsmen’s growing comfort.
Misbah asked for the new ball straightaway and pressed his two best bowlers – Junaid and Bhatti – into service. However, it didn’t have the desired effect as Sri Lanka switched to a measured approach once more.
Chandimal stayed fluent, easily picking up singles and maintaining a strike rate of over 50 throughout his innings. In the first over after lunch, he used his feet to drive Ajmal to the cover boundary to register the partnership’s century stand. In the next over though, bowled by Bhatti, Chandimal, on 71, was reprieved by Ahmed Shehzad at second slip after the fielder misread a thick edge which moved to the wrong direction. The relief on Shehzad’s face was palpable when, 10 overs later, Chandimal was sucked in to a hook by Junaid to be caught at deep fine leg. He could only add 18 after being dropped and missed his third Test century by 11 runs, becoming Junaid’s 50th Test victim in the process.
Pakistan had an opening after 47.3 overs of toil, but Mathews kept his focus and ensured Sri Lanka kept turning the wheel of fortune decisively towards them. Prasanna Jayawardene proved to be the ideal foil, handling Ajmal’s variations with aplomb and keeping the seamers at bay with ease. By the end of the day, the two had batted for 39 overs, and are likely to push the match away from Pakistan’s reach on the last day.
Sri Lanka 204 and 420 for 5 (Mathews 116*, Chandimal 89) lead Pakistan 383 by 241 runs