Wahab Riaz goes from zero to hero in Dubai as spell pulls Pakistan back into Test
Figures of 3-10 reduces Sri Lanka to 34-5 in second innings, but tourists still hold 254-run lead going into Day 4
Not for the first time in his career, Wahab Riaz went from figure of fun to bowling kingpin within the space of an innings, to breath some life into Pakistan’s flagging hopes of saving the Dubai Test.
Bowling from the same end where he had astonishingly aborted his run up five times in a row the previous day, the left-arm quick took 3-10 late in the night session against Sri Lanka.
It was part of a collapse that left the Sri Lankans on 34-5 - albeit still with a healthy lead - at stumps on Day 3 of the second Test at Dubai International Stadium.
Pakistan’s own batting failings mean Sri Lanka are 245 runs ahead, and in good shape to complete a first ever series win over their hosts in Tests in the UAE.
It was always possible Pakistan were going to unravel following the handover from the team of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan to the new broom.
Few might have expected it to happen this quickly, though. A staggered transition, with time spent searching for a new identity, a new gameplan, as well as some new batting talent, maybe.
But, surely in Fortress UAE they would still be good enough for at least parity with a Sri Lanka side who arrived here amid much gloom?
Not so. Much of Pakistan’s cricket in this series has been naive, and, before Wahab’s heroics, they appeared to be careering headlong towards a first Test series defeat in the UAE.
Their best chance of getting anything out of the Dubai Test at that point had seemed to be to send an email to the UAE Research Programme for Rain Enhancement Science to ask for some rain.
Instead, they got Good Wahab, a day on from his alter ego.
Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s new captain, will have been grateful when some momentum finally swayed the way of his side in a night-time session in which 10-wickets fell in all.
The task facing Sarfraz of carrying Pakistan into their uncertain Test future is going to be tough enough, even without factoring in the expectations of matching up to what went before.
The new captain is going to require broad shoulders just to handle captaincy, wicketkeeping, and bailing his side out after the top order have crumbled.
It was beyond him in the first innings here. Arriving at the wicket with Pakistan at 180-5, he managed just a skittish, run-a-ball 14 before top edging a sweep off Dilruwan Perera.
Bowling at the other end to Rangana Herath means Perera can often be the forgotten spinner, but he was the pick of Sri Lanka’s bowlers. As well as Sarfraz, the off-spinner dismissed Sami Aslam and Haris Sohail.
When Yasir Shah was last out, bowled by Suranga Lakmal shortly after hitting him for a huge six, Pakistan were 220 short on first innings.
After turning down the chance to invite Pakistan to bat again, Sri Lanka went haphazardly about extending that lead by the close.
Without the injured Mohammed Amir to call on, Yasir was called on to take the new ball. Because, clearly, he has not bowled enough over the past week or so. The leg-spinner has taken 14 wickets in 139.5 overs in the first three innings of this series.
Day 1 report: Karunarante century sets up Sri Lanka in Dubai
Day 2 report: Pakistan's uphill task to keep UAE record in tact
It was the seamers at the other end, though, who revived Pakistan’s hopes first. First Mohammed Abbas had Kaushal Silva caught behind.
Then Wahab, with his first ball in the second innings, caused Dimuth Karunaratne, the first innings hero for Sri Lanka, to play onto his stumps, just as he did first time around.
In the 3.3 overs he had before the close, Wahab also picked up the wickets of Sadeera Samarawickrama and Dinesh Chandimal, Sri Lanka’s captain.
With a wearing pitch and canny spinners in opposition, Pakistan task is improbable. Thanks to Wahab, though, it no longer looks impossible.
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Updated: October 9, 2017 09:29 PM