Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

Pakistan fight back against Sri Lanka as Rawalpindi celebrates historic Test return

Fans brave heavy security to witness historic occasion, visitors reach 202-5 on shortened opening day

The battle between bat and ball almost became a sideshow as Pakistan celebrated the return of Test cricket after a decade in the wilderness.

Fans skipped work and classes to witness the historic occasion as the entire Pakistan team played their first Test match on home soil, ten years after the militant attack on Sri Lanka's team bus in Lahore left six security personnel and two civilians dead and six players injured.

Sri Lanka were the opponents as cricket went home to Pakistan, and for the record, they reached 202-5 when bad light forced umpires to call early stumps, teenage quick Naseem Shah the most successful bowler with figures of 2-51. But the day was more about the occasion and less about the actual contest.

As expected, heavy security measures were in place which meant multiple security cordons and checks. Thousands of fans had to wait in queues for hours as they tried to make their way into the ground. But the occasion made it worthwhile.

“This is a dream come true,” Hamza Shakoor, a 21-year-old university student, was quoted as saying by AFP. “We are all so excited. We just prayed for [this] time.”

The presence of armoured vehicles and snipers and even a delay due to rain did little to dampen the mood of many who were attending a Test for the first time.

“I have waited 11 years for this. I've only seen all my favourite players on TV so far, so this is my first chance to catch them live,” Muhammad Bin Haris, a medical student, said. That it was Sri Lanka who were playing made it an even more special occasion.

As the country celebrated, the hosts made some bold moves with their squad selection, dropping leg-spinner Yasir Shah for an all-pace attack and not giving Fawad Alam a spot in the playing XI.

On the pitch, the return of Test cricket was more of a slow burn than a grand entrance as the hosts and Sri Lanka traded blows.

Sri Lanka won the toss and decided to bat first on what looked like a pitch ideal for fast bowling. However, their decision was vindicated by openers Oshada Fernando (40) and captain Dimuth Karunaratne (59) who added 96 runs.

Pakistan then got their act together in post-lunch session. All four seamers – Mohammad Abbas, Shaheen Afridi, Usman Shinwari and Shah – were among the wickets as the Sri Lankans went from 96-0 to 127-4.

While the Sri Lankan openers did well to survive a testing opening session, the Pakistan quicks were also guilty of not making the most of the early morning advantage on a cold day.

Afridi trapped Karunaratne lbw with a full ball while Abbas castled Dinesh Chandimal with a superb leg-cutter. Angelo Mathews (31) and Dhananjaya de Silva (38 not out) added 62 runs to steady the innings before young quick Naseem had Mathews caught at second slip.

While Sri Lanka will be happier of the two teams at the end of the day’s play, Pakistan will be concerned on two fronts. First, rain is forecast for the next three days, which means a result will be difficult to enforce. Also, Pakistan were well behind the over rate, which was to be expected as they went with an all-pace attack.

Pakistan are yet to open their account in the new ICC Test Championship system. Slow overrates now result in points getting deducted from the championship table, which means Azhar Ali's team face a possibility of negative points next to their name.

Updated: December 11, 2019 05:00 PM

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