Lower order frustrates Pakistan
Pakistan 478 and 139 for 4 (Malik 53*, Razzaq 35*) beat Sri Lanka 208 and 406 (Sangakkara 138, Jayasuriya 107, Kaneria 7-118) by 6 wickets
Sri Lanka waged a pitched battle on the last day, but could not hold back Pakistan from achieving a series-levelling victory. Shoaib Malik held his nerve and guided Pakistan home after early wickets had been lost to sustained hostility by Chaminda Vaas and Rangana Herath. His unbeaten 53 sealed a game that had threatened to slip out of Pakistan's grasp as the day went on, and shut the door on Sri Lanka's hopes of lifting the trophy on their own. This triumph meant Pakistan had managed not to lose a home series for the first time since defeating Sri Lanka in 1992.
The road to 137 was anything but easy. Had one more wicket fallen, Sri Lanka could have pressed on for an improbable win. The top four had gone, and Inzamam-ul-Haq was hampered by a back problem. Moreover, the pitch helped bowlers and batting was difficult. Kumar Sangakkara dropped a hard chance of Abdul Razzaq's bat shortly after the score was 57 for 4. Razzaq went on to score 35, and his stand with Malik was worth 82 invaluable runs.
The muff was the only mistake made by the Sri Lankan fielders on a day when catches were taken and runs stopped with desperation. Following the lower order's gumption in the morning session, Marvan Atapattu's one-handed effort to dismiss Younis Khan exemplified the spirit with which they fought. The batsman drove Vaas airily and Atapattu, at mid-off, jumped towards the ball, plucking it out of the air with his left hand outstretched as he fell to the ground. Sri Lanka then bowled with renewed vigour, which made the batsmen nervous.
But while the effect of Atapattu's action was electric, a power cut followed after tea. Malik and Razzaq, no doubt spoken to by Inzamam and Bob Woolmer during the break, went about collecting runs in an unflustered manner. As victory loomed they let loose, ending the game with a scoring sequence of 4, 4, 4, 6, 0, 4 and 4.
After Pakistan's last home series victory against Sri Lanka 12 years ago, big defeats followed. A similar pattern threatened after the huge loss in the Faisalabad Test. But even without Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami, Pakistan triumphed. There is a lesson here somewhere. The new bowlers bowled with discipline, if not incision, and Sri Lanka could only muster 208 on the first day. There on, it was all up to Pakistan. They did nearly everything right - the batsmen played responsibly, and they took a substantial lead. But then Sananth Jayasuriya got into one of his moods and murdered the bowlers. The lead was surpassed, but not by much, because Danish Kaneria mystified the Sri Lankans with his legbreaks and googlies.
This morning he began with a wicket, when Farveez Maharoof theatrically played around a routine legbreak that spun into his stumps, sending commentators into raptures. It's moments like that that make legends. Otherwise, Kaneria worked hard for every wicket, and ended with a rich haul. He fell short, though, as Vaas kept company with the last two wickets for two hours, an entire session. Naved-ul-Hasan removed the two, leaving Vaas stranded on 32, and giving Pakistan nearly two sessions to achieve their target.
It should have been a waltz. But losing four wickets before half the target was achieved left Pakistan in danger of falling further. Herath had his tail up, and Vaas missed the stumps by a whisker a couple of times. However, runs to defend were scarce, and Pakistan were keen to avoid losing yet another home series to Sri Lanka. The joy of victory, when it came, was immediate, but the significance of not losing the series will settle in later.