Stumps Sri Lanka 69 for 4 (Kaushal 25, Yasir 2-25) and 419 lead Pakistan 422 (Azhar 85, Haris 76, Herath 5-93) by 66 runs
For eleven sessions this Test went nowhere, the teams only three runs apart at the end of the first innings, but towards the end of day four, Pakistan’s spinners claimed four wickets, and shocked it into life.
Having been made to labour in the field for 162.3 overs, Sri Lanka’s now face a stern battle on Monday. They are 66 runs ahead, but have lost four of their top five, and have fielded only six specialist batsmen in this match. At the crease is Kusal Mendis, who survived a thorough examination from Yasir Shah to finish on 16 off 66. With him is nightwatchman Suranga Lakmal. Niroshan Dickwella and Dilruwan Perera – the last recognised batsman – are yet to come to the crease.
That Sri Lanka have found themselves in this position, is largely Yasir’s work, but ongoing poor umpiring in this Test was the catalyst for the slide. Dimuth Karunaratne was given out bat-pad for 10 off Yasir, though replays showed neither his bat, nor glove, got close to the ball. He should have reviewed it, of course, but as his bat had hit the ground during the course of his stroke, he perhaps felt he had made contact.
The next two wickets went to part-timers, though Yasir had built substantial pressure to help bring about those batting mistakes. Lahiru Thirimanne edged a regulation offbreak from Asad Shafiq behind for 7. Kaushal Silva then missed a sweep against a sharp-turning Haris Sohail delivery and was dismissed for 25. Both those batsmen’s places will come under pressure now – each having failed twice in the Test.
Dinesh Chandimal arrived at the crease with his side in trouble, as had been the case in the first innings, and he sought to play the same way as he did in that first dig. Having made 7 off 29 balls with Mendis, who himself was in discomfort against Yasir, Chandimal failed to get forward to a beautifully flighted delivery from the legspinner, and sent an outside edge to slip. Sri Lanka had stumbled to 65 for 4 and given Pakistan a glimpse – distant though it is for now – at victory.
In fact, that Pakistan ended the day in a position of strength was the result of a resurgence that had first begun with the bat. By lunch, they had lost five wickets for 74 runs, and were in danger of conceding a substantial lead – still 79 runs behind Sri Lanka’s 419, and with only two wickets left. But Hasan Ali came in swinging, and in the course of driving the opposition back with his 25-ball 29, also enlivened what had otherwise been a dreary batting effort from Pakistan. Sohail struck three sixes off Rangana Herath – two down the ground, and one over cow corner – before he ran at Herath immediately after having the last of those big blows, and got himself stumped. That wicket completed Herath’s 32nd career five-wicket haul, and his seventh against Pakistan. He would go on to claim innings figures of 5 for 93, but will now likely also have to summon some of his best work with the bat.
While Hasan made rapid ground at one end, Haris had moved competently past 50 at the other, in his maiden Test innings. The fours square on the offside, and the sixes down the ground off the finger spinners, were the primary features of his eventual 76 off 161 balls. After Hasan departed and Pakistan found themselves nine down, Haris and Sri Lanka entered one of those frustratingly dull periods, where the field was spread for the first four balls while Haris was on strike, and the batsman routinely turned down singles in order to protect Mohammad Abbas, the No. XI. Abbas, however, proved himself capable of resisting, seeing out 34 balls for his one run. Eventually, though, the third new ball was taken, and Haris was caught by mid-off, off the bowling of Nuwan Pradeep. Pakistan had, by then, limped over Sri Lanka’s 419 to establish a three-run lead.
The worry, as ever, for Sri Lanka was that beyond Rangana Herath, there was not much penetration in the attack. Dilruwan Perera claimed a solitary wicket in his 37 overs, and Lakshan Sandakan went wicketless while conceding 98. The seamers were marginally better. Lakmal had achieved good movement off the seam in the first session to take two wickets, including that of Sarfraz Ahmed, who had played on attempting to inject some urgency into the innings. Pradeep, who had dismissed Babar Azam with the last ball of day three, also claimed two wickets.
If the match hurtles to a conclusion after having ambled aimlessly for so long, it would be the third Test between these two teams that has taken that rough form. In 2014, the third Test in Sharjah had been interminably dull until Pakistan chased down 302 inside 58 overs. Later that same year, Herath took five wickets on the final day of what was otherwise a torpid Test, to set up the thrilling – and eventually successful – pursuit of a small score on the final evening.