Osman Samiuddin will be providing regular session updates from the first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi
Junaid Khan's maiden five-wicket haul ended a session of stubborn resistance from Sri Lanka's lower-order, but the first day of the first Test at the Sheikh Abu Zayed stadium in Abu Dhabi still fell firmly within Pakistan's grasp.
At 115 for 7 at tea, Sri Lanka were in danger of an embarrassing implosion. But they were indebted to Angelo Mathews, who continued his impressive run of recent form with a fourth fifty in his last five innings. Mathews, smart, cheeky and defiant by turn, cajoled 54 from an 8th wicket stand with Suranga Lakmal and 25 with Chanaka Welegedara, to salvage some kind of respectability.
Umar Gul broke through first but it was Junaid, whose three-wicket burst before tea had been responsible for Sri Lanka's plight, ended the innings with two more to cap off an impressive display, Sri Lanka all out for 197.
His five wickets, in only his second Test, ended up justifying Misbah-ul-Haq's decision to bowl first. And by day's end - bad light finishing it five overs short - Mohammad Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar had reduced the deficit to 170 in a confident start.
An engrossing afternoon session ended with Pakistan firmly on top, a burst right after lunch and one just before tea leaving Sri Lanka teetering at 115 for seven. Five wickets on a slowing pitch this fully justified Misbah-ul-Haq’s decision to bowl first on winning the toss.
Though each of Pakistan’s four-man attack picked up a wicket, and Junaid Khan was the standout with three, it was Aizaz Cheema who actually set the tone. A wonderful five-over spell right after lunch saw only Kumar Sangakkara dismissed for two (and that is some 'only’), but it was the intent he brought, to batter some give from the surface that set Pakistan up.
Umar Gul would then send back Tharanga Paranavitana, the stubborn opener, for 37 when Adnan Akmal took a catch at wicketkeeper, leaving Sri Lanka on 79 for three.
Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan (19) countered briefly thereafter, but with Saeed Ajmal locked in at one end and the fast men rotating at the other, matters were never entirely stable. Their 33-run stand, a mix of Dilshan’s bullying and Jayawardene’s silk, was ended, however, by a poor decision from Tony Hill, the umpire.
There appeared to be considerable daylight between Dilshan’s bat and the doosra Ajmal delivered but Hill had no hesitation in adjudging him caught behind.
That was all Junaid needed. In the very next over, he sent back both Jayawardenes in two balls (Mahela for 28 and the wicketkeeper Prasanna for a duck), the second a searing yorker.
Rangana Herath was trapped leg-before on Junaid’s return to leave with him three wickets in five balls, and Sri Lanka having lost six for 65 in the session.
A subdued first morning of a long season of international cricket at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi. Put in, Sri Lanka worked their way gently to 50 for 1 at lunch on a pitch that looks to have sold everyone a dummy.
In fairness, there was an unusual amount of grass on the surface, so that both sides picked three fast bowlers. Misbah-ul-Haq's decision to bowl, at first, looked a reasonable one.
But a few alarms in the first couple of overs apart, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema and Junaid Khan were, at best, steady and honest. The omission of Wahab Riaz, who breaks the sameness of the fast attack, might not have been the smartest move.
Pakistan, in fact, turned to spin as early as the 8th over, bringing on Mohammad Hafeez.
Openers Tharanga Paranavitana and Lahiru Thirimanne went mostly unnoticed in the first hour, only perking up when the former cut Hafeez past point for the morning's first boundary just before drinks.
He opened up a little immediately after the break, slashing Junaid over point and driving Cheema through the covers for boundaries. Tharanga was struck on the shoulder by the energetic Cheema as lunch neared but by then he was looking settled.
But as has been the way over the last few Tests, it was spin that brought Pakistan success, Saeed Ajmal's doosra sending back Thirimanne just before lunch.
We might just be in for a fine Test at the Shaikh Zaye Stadium. The pitch has some grass on it, enough for both sides to have picked three fast bowlers and enough for Misbah-ul-Haq to have put Sri Lanka in on winning the toss.
Some team news: Pakistan have sprung a minor surprise of sorts by not picking Wahab Riaz and opting for Junaid Khan and Aizaz Cheema to partner Umar Gul.
Riaz did briefly have on an ice pack on his left elbow at training yesterday, but it could've been for the purposes of fashion. Team management confirms he is not injured.
Otherwise, the only decision was whether Shoaib Malik would return to Test cricket after over a year out but Asad Shafiq has sneaked in ahead of him.
Sri Lanka have also picked three fast bowlers, giving a debut to Nuwan Pradeep. Former Sri Lanka player Russel Arnold, here as a commentator, said simply of Pradeep: "He's quick."
Blue skies, green pitch, two evenly-matched teams, five days: game on.
Pakistan: Mohammad Hafeez, Taufiq Umar, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Adnan Akmal, Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul, Aizaz Cheema, Junaid Khan.
Sri Lanka: Tillakaratne Dilshan (capt), Angelo Mathews, Tharanga Paranavitana, Lahiru Thirimanne, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Prasanna Jayawardene, Rangana Herath, Chanaka Welegedara, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep.
Umpires: Tony Hill (NZ) and Rodney Tucker (AUS)
TV umpire: Ahsan Raza (PAK)
Match referee: David Boon (AUS)
Join the debate at lunch - Osman Samiuddin, our cricket writer, will conduct a live web chat during the lunch break.