Abhishek Purohit (ESPNcricinfo)
Rangana Herath conjured six wickets on a day-five pitch that carried little threat and Sri Lanka hunted down 99 in a dramatic chase under the constant threat of rain and fading light. A big, dark cloud hung over the ground as Sri Lanka closed in but relented just long enough for Angelo Mathews to swat an unbeaten 25 off 13 and drag his side home with under five overs remaining. Just after Mathews tapped Junaid Khan to midwicket for a nearly suicidal, winning single, the skies opened up.
Pakistan’s loss was the 12th by a side that had posted 450-plus batting first, as they tried to block their way to safety in the morning and found Herath all over them. They lost three wickets for 62 runs in 32 overs in the first session, and even though they tried being more positive after lunch, Sri Lanka pried out four more by tea. Sarfraz Ahmed counter-attacked with an unbeaten fifty but he was stranded as Herath spun out the tail to leave Sri Lanka 21 overs to get 99.
Mahela Jayawardene walked out to open in his last Test innings in Galle and took Sri Lanka to 59 before the sight of the cloud made him make too much room outside leg and miss an accurate Junaid Khan yorker on 26. Kumar Sangakkara swung his way to 21 off 22 before he holed out to long-on as Sri Lanka’s desperation grew and Pakistan fretted over the falling visibility. It was left to captain Mathews to slog a couple of sixes into a wildly cheering crowd to beat the rain.
Pakistan’s downfall began in the morning when their young batsmen were reluctant to score after Dhammika Prasad had ended the nightwatchman Saeed Ajmal’s resistance in the sixth over of the day. Ahmed Shehzad made 16 off 74 and was around with the equally sedate Azhar Ali for 93 balls, but the partnership fetched Pakistan merely 28. Even half-volleys were patted away regularly and the spinners were allowed to settle into their rhythms. The occasional attempts to rotate the strike were rushed and tense. Azhar stepped out at times, but went to lunch on 18 off 89.
Herath and Dilruwan Perera were relentless, even with no uneven bounce available an no exaggerated turn or bounce. Perera, a classical offspinner who has no doosra, used his straighter one superbly from both sides of the wicket, leaving the batsmen unsure about which ones would turn. He beat Azhar with a straighter one and Shehzad on the drive with a flighted offbreak.
The batsmen started shuffling further and further across in doubt and umpire Ian Gould gave Shehzad leg-before as he missed an offbreak. Shehzad conferred with Azhar and walked back without reviewing, only to face an incredulous Moin Khan and Waqar Younis in the dressing room, as replays showed the ball would have turned past leg stump.
Realising that some runs were dearly needed, Younis Khan drove Perera for four through extra cover first ball, and was way more positive in defence as well as attack than the preceding batsmen.
Herath had been taken off after constantly teasing the batsmen with his flight and arm balls, and was brought back ten minutes before lunch. Younis walked out to the second delivery and smothered it. The third one he pushed forward to, playing for spin, but it was the arm ball and slipped through the gate.
Misbah-ul-Haq calmly lofted Herath for a straight four off the last ball of that over. Pakistan showed more intent after lunch even as the spinners tried to target the rough outside leg. Both Azhar and Misbah resorted to sweeps, and the latter reviewed umpire Bruce Oxenford’s lbw decision successfully on 8 off Perera, replays showing the batsman had gloved the ball on to pad.
A few overs later, Misbah slog-swept Perera for six over midwicket and reverse-swept the next ball for four. The partnership grew to 56, and the calming presence of Misbah seemed to have steadied Pakistan from the tremors of the morning.
Sri Lanka struck twice in the space of three balls to deliver bigger jolts to Pakistan. Azhar got his second jaffa of the match from Herath that spun across to take the edge behind on the forward push. Two balls later, Misbah missed a whip off the back foot against Perera, and it was Sri Lanka’s turn to review successfully now for leg-before.
Asad Shafiq failed to read Herath’s arm ball again but Sarfraz fought with aggression. Sarfraz came into the Test with a batting average of 18.58 but added fifties in each innings. His approach to spin was in sharp contrast to that of some of his batting colleagues. As the overs remaining kept dwindling, Sarfraz kept walking out, whipping, cutting, driving and sweeping Pakistan’s lead towards 100. Amid all this, he even managed to farm the strike with Mohammad Talha for a while before Herath had his way again.
The previous Test between these sides in Sharjah had Pakistan chasing 302 in quick time. This wasn’t as big a pursuit, but it made up on the drama front.