Pakistan tumble towards big defeat

It is hard to imagine what Pakistan would have felt in the morning when Saeed Ajmal got one to kick up from length on Kumar Sangakkara and had him caught at short leg. There would have been the elation of seeing the back of one of the world’s most prized wickets, out for just five runs on the day, after a threatening 107-stand. There would have been a resurgence in belief that Pakistan could, somehow, sneak up on Sri Lanka, cause an upset to square the series and disrupt Mahela Jayawardene’s farewell party plans. Somewhere, there would have been a worry too. About Rangana Herath, who had run through their batting order to pick up nine wickets in the first innings on a flat pitch.

The approach of the Pakistan openers as they set out to chase 271 suggested they wanted to take whatever they could get off the seamers, before the inevitable arrived. Ahmed Shehzad and Khurram Manzoor possibly underestimated the quicks and did not hold their strokes back, sometimes playing and missing. Both were dismissed by Dhammika Prasad before Herath came in to bowl. And his first ball turned and bounced almost chest high for the wicketkeeper, leaving no doubt that the batsmen had little chance. As expected, Herath drove away any thoughts of a Sharjah-like chase by breaking the back of Pakistan batting – Azhar Ali, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan – within his first six overs.

A lot depended on the three batsmen if Pakistan were to put up a fight. Azhar was the hero of the chase in Sharjah while Younis and Misbah have excellent records in fourth innings, both boasting of averages in excess of 50. But Azhar did not have a chance against one that turned away and took the outside to Jayawardene, neither did Misbah, who, too, was snapped up at first slip again, taking Jayawardene’s catch-tally to 205. Younis had seen the dismissals from the other end and the turn would have played on his mind, but he was done in by the arm-ball, trapped lbw as he missed a sweep.

Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed have had success against spin during this tour and were nimble-footed during a 55-run sixth-wicket stand that prevented total capitulation. But Shafiq missed one as he stepped out to give Herath his 22nd wicket in the series. With effectively two wickets remaining – Junaid Khan was ruled out – Pakistan were left facing a big defeat.

Run-scoring had been difficult all day and there were more animated reactions from the bowlers than scoring shots. Under grey skies, the three-man Pakistan attack worked tirelessly and found generous help from the SSC surface. Ajmal, who bowled unchanged through the day, dismissed Sangakkara in his second over of the day. He followed it up with Mahela Jayawardene’s wicket – the 10th time he dismissed the batsman in Tests – in his next over before beating Lahiru Thirimanne with a doosra to collect three wickets in a 46-over slog. Wahab Riaz also picked up three wickets with the old ball.

There was no way past Angelo Mathews’ bat though. His unbeaten 43 included plenty of nudges and expansive shots hardly made an appearance – he hit just two boundaries. But his runs – and his partnerships with Niroshan Dickwella and Prasad – were critical in the context of the match as Sri Lanka lost last eight wickets for 96 runs to post 282.

Thus, the role of the Jayawardene-Sangakkara stand had been extremely important. It was the 19th time the two had added more than 100 in Tests, making them the second-most prolific pair behind Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.

The Sunday crowd that had settled in early for Jayawardene’s last Test innings rose to its feet in the second over of the day as the batsman swept Ajmal to the fine-leg boundary and reached his 50th Test half-century. It turned out to be the penultimate scoring stroke in Jayawardene’s 11814-run wide Test canvas as the batsman soon miscued a lofted shot to mid-on off Ajmal.

He walked back acknowledging the applause from all, leaving the future of Sri Lanka’s batting, and of the current Test, with the new generation. That Sangakkara also waved his bat to the stands on his walk back to the pavilion raised speculation of it being his last Test appearance in Sri Lanka. As the two left in quick succession, batting suddenly turned into a difficult job.

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