Pakistan are favorites to win, although they were three down at stumps on the fourth day.
Dhananjaya de silva was the only thing standing between Pakistan and a clear victory for much of the day
Sri Lanka’s spirited comeback has put the home team in with a chance of taking a sensational win in the first Test against Pakistan in Galle. On a day when Pakistan appeared to be closing the door on Sri Lanka’s hopes, their bowlers pried it open in a frenzied last hour in which Pakistan slipped to 48 for 3 in the chase of 131.
Pakistan’s batting style for much of their first innings hinted they might try to finish this chase in as few overs as possible, but committing to that method and carrying it out against Sri Lankan spinners in the failing Galle light were two different things. Prabath Jayasuriya and Ramesh Mendis slowed them right away, finding a prodigious turn and combining it with pinpoint accuracy.
It paid off in the seventh over, when Abdullah Shafique was forced to shove at a ball that spun away and kissed the edge. Soon after, Shan Masood fell for Jayasuriya’s deception, drastically altering his line as he saw the batter approaching. Sri Lanka moved in for the kill after Masood could only pop one up to the short leg.
Pakistan dispatched Noman Ali as a nightwatchman, only to lose him in ridiculous circumstances. He hurried back for a second that was never on, and a superb pick-up and throw from Mendis on the midwicket boundary caught him well short of his crease. It brought Babar Azam out for a shaky final few overs, but despite Sri Lanka’s drive, Pakistan refused to let any more bloodshed happen.
Dhananjaya de Silva was the only thing standing between Pakistan and a clear victory for much of the day. A half-century and important partnerships with Dinesh Chandimal and Ramesh Mendis enabled Sri Lanka to erase the deficit and take the lead during the middle session. The Sri Lankan innings, on the other hand, was impeded throughout by Pakistan, who took wickets at important intervals and never allowed them to increase their lead into a truly hazardous area.
While Pakistan depended on its pace bowlers for early breakthroughs in the first innings, Galle’s reputation for spin friendliness, particularly at the tail end of a Test, became clear as Noman and Abrar Ahmed shared the wickets.
After a few overs in the fading light the day before, Dimuth Karunaratne and Nishan Madushka gave Sri Lanka a decent start. The strike didn’t rotate much; the first single was taken in the 10th over and 39th run, but Sri Lanka picked up a boundary in each over, and despite some probing lines from Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah, they looked fairly comfortable.
But Abrar’s entrance had an instant impact, as Karunaratne’s typically wayward shot was sensationally caught by Salman Ali diving low. Even when the run rate slowed, Madushka and Kusal Mendis returned to the innings calmly, seeing off the fast bowlers and appearing quite secure against spin. However, a pair of strikes from Noman in the final half hour turned things around, first trapping Mendis in front of his crease, then a superb ball whirling away from Angelo Mathews’ outside edge was expertly pouched by Babar at first slip.
Madushka remained steady at the other end, although he was caught off guard by a sloppy shot from Noman just after reaching his half-century. The fifth wicket stand, like the previous, was fruitful for Sri Lanka. De Silva and Dinesh Chandimal pounced on Afridi, knocking him out after only four overs. They were more cautious against spin, but smart shot selection and consistent field manipulation kept the runs coming as they closed in on the lead.
They put up a 50-run stand, but as soon as Sri Lanka seized the lead, Chandimal chipped one to midwicket off Agha Salman, where Imam took a good catch. Pakistan’s catching has stood out throughout this Test, most notably in Abdullah Shafique’s grab at short leg that dismissed Sadeera Samarawickrama. Initially caught off guard by the edge, Shafique reacted to dive to his right and grab a one-handed diving catch, sending Sri Lanka over the edge.
Pakistan had hoped for a quick victory, but Mendis and de Silva held firm for a 76-run partnership over 23 overs. It was slow going at times, but they never seemed out of place against the spinners either side of the tea break until Abrar struck, a wayward sweep from Mendis catching him in front.
Following that, Pakistan employed Afridi and the new ball to pierce the fading remains of Sri Lankan resistance. After a magnificent 82, Dhananjaya was ultimately bowled by a touch of extra bounce and seam movement. Then, with a slower ball, Shaheen tricked Jayasuriya before Kasun Rajitha scooped one up to Masood at point.
Pakistan had quickly dispatched the tail, but Sri Lanka made certain that the same could not be said of the tiny target. A year after Pakistan chased down 344 at this exact site, the pursuit of 131 is far from routine.
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