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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Pakistan's Asad Shafiq returns to form to keep hopes alive of winning Dubai Test

Nominal hosts recover from 52-5 to 198-5 but require another 119 to get on Day 5 to level series 1-1 against Sri Lanka

Asad Shafiq seems to have rediscovered his mojo after eight consecutive fruitless visits to the middle. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Asad Shafiq seems to have rediscovered his mojo after eight consecutive fruitless visits to the middle. Francois Nel / Getty Images

The master of the pink-ball, day-night, impossible fourth-innings run chase stood up on Monday night to keep Pakistan’s hopes of a series-levelling win in the Dubai Test just about alive.

The last time Asad Shafiq did anything of note with the bat for Pakistan was eight games ago, when his century underpinned the fourth-highest last-innings total in Test history.

Run-making has proved a struggle for the diminutive batsman since that 137 against Australia under the lights of the Gabba in Brisbane in December. Pakistan still lost then, but the fact they got within 39 was remarkable, and a tribute to Shafiq’s excellence.

After they slumped to a 21-run loss against Sri Lanka in the first Test of this series in Abu Dhabi last week, Mickey Arthur, the coach, sent out an SOS.

“I think the stability that he brings to our batting is much needed now,” Arthur said in the aftermath of the second-innings implosion at the Zayed Cricket Stadium.

“I know that since his hundred at Gabba it hasn’t gone according to plan for him, but he has got the class to produce for us. I am hoping that he gets a hundred from somewhere and goes from strength to strength. We need him.”

Now their need is at its greatest, Shafiq has finally relocated his mojo. Their unbeaten record in Test series is on the line. They are on the brink of being whitewashed.

Fair to say they need him, and he responded in kind. He struck an unbeaten 86, and shared in a brilliant, exhausting, hopeful hundred partnership with his captain Sarfraz Ahmed.

Crucially, they will both be at the wicket when the fifth day gets underway at the Dubai International Stadium. They need 119 more to win. With Shafiq and Sarfraz at the crease, they will surely feel it can be done.

At no point did it seem easy. Despite the fact the pitch was providing extravagant turn, it was not just the spinners who threatened.

Wahab Riaz, the left-arm pace bowler, returned the best figures of the Pakistan bowlers, in a display that was the usual mix of effort, fire, and a little bit of farce.

Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz, left, finished with figures of 4-41. Francois Nel / Getty Images
Pakistan fast bowler Wahab Riaz, left, finished with figures of 4-41. Francois Nel / Getty Images

Having taken three wickets in his first 21 balls on Sunday night, he opened Day 4 with a full-toss on leg stump, which new batsman Niroshan Dickwella easily dispatched to the rope. He sent down no-balls. He ran on the pitch.

And yet he still accounted for the dangerous Dickwella shortly after, smartly caught behind by Sarfraz Ahmed, on his way to four wickets in his first six overs.

The identity of Pakistan’s next most successful bowler was a shock to everyone – probably even himself. Haris Sohail had taken three first-class wickets in the past 10 years.

With Mohammed Amir, Yasir Shah and Wahab all off the field at the time, Haris was handed the ball with Sri Lanka on 95-7. He summarily ended the innings with three wickets for one run in just the one eventful over.

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Read more

Day 1 report: Karunarante century sets up Sri Lanka in Dubai

Day 2 report: Pakistan's uphill task to keep UAE record in tact

Day 3 report: Wahab regains his groove in the second innings

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Sri Lanka’s batsmen have spent a lot of hours in the middle over the course of the two Test matches. They are not the only ones who will be looking forward to getting into limited-overs mode from Friday onwards.

They took that idea a little but far, though. They were all out within 26 overs. However unlikely it seemed, they had, from the apparently impregnable position of having a 220-run lead on first innings, left the door slightly ajar for Pakistan.

A series-levelling run-chase, with a fourth-innings target of 317, would require a monstrous effort. Immediately, it appeared beyond Pakistan, as they fell to 52-5.

Dilruwan Perera was the dangerman. The off-spinner fired out Shan Masood, Haris and Babar Azam as Pakistan’s top order crumbled.

Despite their best efforts, though, Sri Lanka have yet to find an answer to the resistance of Shafiq and Sarfraz. It is set up for a classic final day.

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