Sri Lanka’s nemesis in the series, Yasir Shah, was the tormentor in chief yet again for the hosts as they crumbled to 272 for 8 at stumps on the opening day of the Pallekele Test. At one point in the day, Sri Lanka were comfortably placed at 106 for 1, but Yasir Shah (4 for 77) and part-time spinner Azhar Ali (2 for 35) combined forces to ensure Pakistan ended the day on a high. Rahat Ali claimed the first and last wicket of the day to cap off what had indeed been a dominating day for Pakistan.
Having lost Kaushal Silva early, Sri Lanka fought back very well to take the Lankans to a position of comfort. Ali had Silva caught behind in the fifth over of the day, but Ali and Ehsan Adil did not make Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga play enough in the first session. As a result, the pressure was eased off the Lankan batsmen. The pitch wasn’t offering a lot of assistance, as a result of which Sri Lanka were successful in moving the ball around. They went to lunch well placed at 85 for 1.
It was after the lunch break that things began falling apart for Sri Lanka. Pakistan bowled good line and lengths, tying down the set batsmen. Imran Khan found accuracy while Yasir continued his impressive run, not giving any leeway to either Tharanga or Karunaratne. Tharanga is not known for his patience, and his temperament proved his undoing again as, when on 46, he went to drive Yasir without moving his feet, and was caught by Younis Khan in the slips. Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews matched incomprehensible strokes to be caught at mid-off and mid-on respectively.
Karunaratne continued the fight for Sri Lanka, and he was joined by Jehan Mubarak, who was featuring in his first Test in eight years. The two went about rebuilding the innings, and were helped by the fact that Yasir was tiring out, and the pitch too did not possess many demons. Karunaratne used his feet well against the spinners, and also did well to find the gaps against the pacers. Karunaratne went on to complete a well-deserved hundred. He and Mubarak took Lanka past 200 when Mubarak went down the ground, and was stumped off Yasir’s bowling.
The bigger blow for Lanka came when Karunaratne fell for 130 to Azhar. He charged down the track, and was again stumped with ease. Very next ball, Azhar had Dhammika Prasad caught by Lanka’s tormentor first ball. Dinesh Chandimal had eased his way to 24 when Rahat trapped him plumb in front. Sri Lanka had given away all the advantage they had gained in the first session. Pakistan would now be disappointed if they do not bowl Lanka for under 300.
--By A Cricket Correspondent