Ahmed Shehzad scored his maiden Test hundred but Pakistan’s progress on the third day in Sharjah, despite a century opening partnership and 122 runs in the final session, was not swift enough to weaken Sri Lanka’s grip on their 1-0 lead in the series. At their current pace the best Pakistan can hope for is to draw a Test they need to win, but with their middle order falling away alarmingly, they were far from certain of avoiding a first-innings deficit.
Pakistan’s approach was curious. The surface, despite its crumbling appearance, had little seam, swing or spin for the bowlers but the batsmen did not attempt to force the pace for most of the day. Pakistan lost no wickets in the first session but their openers added only 66 runs in 29 overs. They then lost two in the second while scoring only 84 in 29 overs. Shehzad led the acceleration after tea, forcing Angelo Mathews on the defensive, but he was one of four wickets to fall in the session, which meant it was Sri Lanka who won the day.
The go-slow had begun after Pakistan got to 30 for 0 after nine overs; they scored only 12 runs off the next 13. The lack of pace off the pitch and the slow outfield hindered shot making and most of the early boundaries came via glances from Shehzad when the fast bowlers strayed on to the pads.
To try and make something happen for Sri Lanka, Shaminda Eranga bowled cross seam to rough up one side of the ball, and a few deliveries did tail in to the right-hand batsmen through the day. Herath operated from over the wicket, pitching outside leg stump, a line of attack he used for most of the day. Towards the end of the first session, Mathews placed six fielders on the leg side and Suranga Lakmal bowled very straight, making the batsmen play, often across the line.
Manzoor and Shehzad picked up the pace shortly before lunch but slowed down again after the break, when they played four maidens in the first five overs. Mathews brought himself on and conceded his first run only off the last delivery of his fourth over.
Things began to happen in the 42nd over, with Manzoor and Shehzad sweeping Herath for a three and a four, and Shehzad being dropped on 43 by Dimuth Karunaratne at midwicket. That over of excitement, however, was not a sign of things to come. Pakistan’s century opening stand came up in 43.3 overs, and Shehzad got to his fifty off 150 balls, and Manzoor reached his off 120.
Eranga’s reintroduction 12 overs into the second session brought Sri Lanka the breakthrough. He began to reverse-swing deliveries into the right-hander and Manzoor edged one that strayed down leg side to the keeper. He reviewed the umpire’s decision in vain and the opening stand ended on 114.
Pakistan have made some horrible reviews in this series but none was worse than Azhar Ali’s decision to challenge his edge to slip. It merely delayed the confirmation of Dilruwan Perera’s maiden Test wicket, after the offspinner had to wait 42 overs on the second day to get a bowl.
Eranga and Lakmal then began to reverse the ball significantly – they had a 7-2 leg side field at times – but the movement was appreciable only in the air. The balls that hit the pitch were not as potent.
Shehzad brought up his century shortly after tea – his second 50 had taken only 80 balls – and accelerated after the landmark. He square drove Perera for four, drove Eranga on the up through cover, lofted the fast bowler over long-on for six, and carted the offspinner over his head to the straight boundary. During Shehzad’s acceleration, however, Younis Khan, who had been rotating strike busily, was caught superbly down the leg side by Prasanna Jayawardene off Herath. He walked, leaving Pakistan 189 for 3.
In the company of Misbah-ul-Haq, Shehzad continued to raise his strike-rate, sweeping Herath and slog-sweeping Perera. The 50-run stand for the fourth wicket took 63 balls. Misbah’s contribution was 11. And then Shehzad chose wrong, attempting to reverse-sweep a Herath delivery from a few feet outside leg stump. He was so shocked that the ball had gone on to bowl him off the bottom edge that he took ages to leave the pitch. Shehzad’s last 47 runs had come off only 45 balls.
There was more pain for Pakistan, though. Having been denied numerous marginal decisions while bowling, Pakistan lost Asad Shafiq to an lbw appeal that umpire Richard Kettleborough upheld, but replays indicated the ball from Eranga would have only clipped leg stump. Shafiq reviewed and lost out to the umpire’s call, which is fast becoming Pakistan’s bane in this series.
And in the final over of the day, Herath got one to spin and bounce away from Sarfraz Ahmed, and Prasanna moved swiftly to his right to catch the thick edge. Misbah, unbeaten on 36 at the other end, was left with only the tail.