By BV Swagath
Stumps on Day 4: Rangana Herath’s late blows brought Sri Lanka strongly back in the Pallakele Test as Pakistan ended Day 4 on a disappointing note with a lead of 188 runs with just two wickets in hand. This was despite a century from Azhar Ali and half centuries from Hafeez and Asad Shafiq.
While Sri Lanka look to be the favourites to win the match from this stage, two more results – a Pakistan win and a draw are still alive. All depends on how the two surviving batsmen Asad Shafiq and an injured Adnan Akmal cope up tomorrow morning.
The final session started with Sri Lanka desperately looking to take wickets in a hurry. They were up against a strong partnership between Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. Azhar Ali went onto bring up his 4th Test century and even after that batted with utmost care as Sri Lanka took the second new ball.
The Sri Lankan bowling looked absolutely toothless with the likes of Kulasekara and Perera bowling at mediocre pace. Just when everything seemed to be going in Pakistan’s favour, Azhar Ali (136 from 284 balls with 13 fours) played a tired cut shot without moving his feet to edge Dilhara Fernanado to the keeper. Azhar left the ground with Pakistan’s lead at 165 runs following his 100-run stand with the impressive Asad Shafiq.
Dilhara Fernano after removing Azhar claimed his 100th Test wicket when Mohammad Sami was wrongly adjudged lbw by Umpire Steve Davis to a yorker that was drifting down leg. Rangana Herath with a couple of arm balls got rid of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal cheaply to leave Pakistan on the mat at 299 for 8. Just before the close of play, Adnan Akmal (0*) with a fractured finger bravely came out to bat and with Asad Shafiq (55* from 134 balls with 5 fours) saw through the day. Pakistan finished at 299 for 8 and are certainly living on the edge in this Test with a lead of just 188 runs on a pitch that is becoming better and better for batting.
Tea on Day 4: Sri Lanka have fought back in the afternoon session restricting Pakistan to 210 for 4 in 70 overs. The hosts claimed two important wickets to slow down the progress of Pakistan. Azhar Ali batted out the session safely to inch towards a century.
Pakistan was looking comfortable at the start of the session as Azhar Ali and Younis Khan defied the Sri Lankan bowling. However, against the run of play, Rangana Herath got the wicket of Younis Khan (19 from 50 balls) when the veteran batsman skipped down the track but only to glove an arm ball onto the pad and the resulting catch was taken by a forward diving Tharanga Paranavitana one handed at silly point. It was an end to a promising 48-run stand for the third wicket.
Herath very soon got the wicket of the Pakistani Skipper Misbah-ul-Haq (5) when the latter edged a drive off a near yorker to an alert Mahela Jayawardene at slip. Pakistan at this stage were under pressure with the lead only at 65 runs with six wickets in hand. Fortunately by Tea, Pakistan found another promising partnership between Azhar Ali (97* from 207 balls with 9 fours) and Asad Shafiq (16*) which took the lead to 99 runs.
Lunch on Day 4: Pakistan are nicely placed at 119 for 2 in 38 overs by Lunch on Day 4. The visitors are into a lead of 8 runs thanks to a solid partnership between overnight batsmen Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali.
Sri Lanka could get only one wicket that of Mohammad Hafeez (52 from 100 balls with 6 fours) in the entire morning session when he edged his drive off a widish half volley from Dilhara Fernando to slip in the 36th over.
At lunch, Pakistan have Azhar Ali (48*) joined by veteran Younis Khan, who is on 2*.
Build Up to Day 4: The third and final Test at Pallekele is headed towards an exciting finish as Pakistan are under pressure at 27 for 1 after conceding a 111-run lead in the first innings. The pitch at Pallekele has been spicy with the seamers getting plenty of movement off it should they get their lengths right.
Beginning the morning for Pakistan are going to be Mohammad Hafeez on 8* and Azhar Ali on 6*. Pakistan will have to be extremely positive and be prepared to put away the bad balls for runs. Sri Lanka on the other hand will have to bowl and field well to sustain the pressure on the visitors.