Tourists lead by 66 runs with just six wickets in hand as normal services resume for Pakistan
Pakistan spinners make inroads to put Sri Lanka on backfoot in Abu Dhabi cricket Test
So much for the brave new world. The strategy for the start of Pakistan’s new era was supposed to be based on three seamers.
And yet their unexpected victory push against Sri Lanka on the fourth afternoon of the first Test at Zayed Cricket Stadium was somehow still centred on three spinners. Just like the good old days of, well, last time they were here.
It certainly was not supposed to be like this when Mickey Arthur, the coach, and Sarfraz Ahmed, the captain, asked Mohan Singh, the Abu Dhabi groundsman, to leave more grass on the wicket ahead of this match. The best chance of success, to their mind, was via the pace attack of Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Abbas and Hasan Ali.
Arthur complained on the first evening that the pitch was not quite as green as ordered. The home bowlers toiled through 154.5 overs first time around as a result, but the dryness of the wicket may be of help, now.
It was three spinners who caused the jitters at the start of the second innings. Who knew they even had three in their new-look line up?
Day 1 report: Sri Lanka prove batting worth
Day 2 report: Chandimal shows leadership
Day 3 report: The calmness of Azhar Ali
Analysis: Sarfraz will be his own man
The identity of the one who led the way was obvious enough. Yasir Shah has long been the outstanding figure in the Pakistan bowling pack.
The legspinner’s opening overs in the Sri Lanka second innings felt like the trailer to an epic, as he dismissed Dimuth Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal, the two leading players in the first innings.
The second of the spinners, Asad Shafiq, is such a part-timer he might as well be on a zero-hour contract.
He was a most unlikely destroyer. When the over started, the diminutive batsman did not even know he was going to bowling, let alone be picking up his second Test wicket a moment later.
Hasan started the over, but limped off the field injured. Shafiq, filling in with his rarely spotted off-spin, promptly had Lahiru Thirimanne caught by Sarfraz at the wicket.
That had clearly set the nerves racing in the away dressing room. Even before Haris Sohail, who earlier made a classy half-century to edge Pakistan past Sri Lanka to a three-run lead on first innings, picked up the third wicket, Kaushal Silva might have been run out.
A mix up with Kusal Mendis left Silva way short of his ground affecting a single, but he was spared by a wild throw from Wahab Riaz, who was on as the substitute for Hasan.
Haris, bowling left-arm spin, had Silva shortly after anyway. The opener made to sweep, but was trapped LBW.
It was the exclamation mark on a fine day for Haris, who is enjoying a memorable debut. Much was made in the lead up to the match about the fact the left-hander had not played a first-class match in nearly four years.
Imagine how good he might have been if he had not missed so much time through injury. He looked a class act in making 76, before being the last man out in Pakistan’s 422.
“Two years out with injury was a struggle, I had to operate and things weren’t going my way,” Haris said.
“It was a dream for me to play Test for Pakistan, and it materialised. I worked really hard as if I will never make a comeback. I worked hard with physios here and also in England and then things started to improve.”
Closing on 69-4 means Sri Lanka have a 66-run lead ahead of the final day.
The one nagging concern for the hosts will be that Sri Lanka have a threatening battery of slow bowlers, too. Rangana Herath, the masterly left-arm spinner, took five wickets in the first innings, the seventh time he has done so in Tests against Pakistan.
“Only 24 wickets have fallen so far, and that shows it is not an easy pitch to take wickets on as far as I’m concerned, so I’m really happy with the way I bowled,” Herath said.
“We need to score as much as we can. You cannot say what is the right score. We need to bat the first hour, then till lunch, then have a plan.”