Samaraweera plays the lone hand
Day oneSri Lanka 233 for 7 (Samaraweera 97*, Shoaib 3-55, Sami 3-66) v Pakistan
A triple strike in the first four overs of the match swung the game Pakistan's way on the opening day of the first Test at Faisalabad, before a grim 97 not out from Thilan Samaraweera clawed back a modicum of respect for Sri Lanka. Pakistan's fast bowlers were rewarded for their discipline as they tore the top order apart in a matter of minutes, and Samaraweera aside, the rest wilted in the face of some accurate pace and guile, as Sri Lanka limped to 233 for 7 at stumps.
Shoaib Akhtar was deadly from the word go. He varied his pace and swing cannily and made the batsmen play at almost everything. Mohammad Sami also posed some searching questions early on before producing a really probing spell after tea, when he broke the partnership that had partially revived the Sri Lankan innings. Samaraweera gritted it out amid the ruins and strung together two crucial partnerships, but the damage had been done in the first fifteen minutes the day and Pakistan were in control throughout.
After electing to bat first, Marvan Atapattu lasted just three balls. An angled delivery from Shoaib pitched on middle, cut in a shade and struck the back leg. In his next over Shoaib lured Kumar Sangakkara into a back-foot punch. The thick edge flew towards third slip and Imran Farhat scooped an excellent low catch. Sami then produced a beauty to remove Mahela Jayawardene with a perfect outswinger and Sri Lanka were 9 for 3 before the spectators could even settle in their seats.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Samaraweera set about repairing the damage in contrasting styles. Jayasuriya slashed wildly at anything wide of the stumps, and was extremely fortunate to be reprieved twice, while Samaraweera was more intent on preserving his wicket. Jayasuriya lived on the edge throughout his stay and struggled in particular against Abdul Razzaq, who pitched it on a good length and moved it away consistently. He was dropped twice off Razzaq: Inzamam muffed a low chance in the slips before Shoaib Malik reacted late to one that whizzed to gully. But Jayasuriya didn't capitalise on these large dollops of fortune and fell to Sami soon after, swishing at a wide one. Asim Kamal found himself at the receiving end of the screamer which he juggled before clutching on with one hand (77 for 4).
Samaraweera inched his way towards a seventh Test fifty, nudging and pushing when the opportunity arose. He shuffled across the crease early in his innings, which nearly caused his downfall although Steve Bucknor turned down Razzaq's huge appeal for lbw. But unlike Jayasuriya, Samaraweera chose to play along the ground on most occasions. Watching the ball closely, he played as late as possible and negated any movement off the pitch. He was much more at home against the spinners and even danced down the pitch a couple of times. When on 63, he suffered a bout of cramps that forced him to bat with a runner but he didn't hold back against the fast bowlers late in the day. Rocking onto the back foot, he pulled Shoaib and Sami fiercely and even got a bit cheeky, with a series of controlled glides.
After adding 68 with Jayasuriya, Samaraweera put on 65 more with Jehan Mubarak, who was not fazed by Shoaib's hostility in spite of it being only his third Test. He displayed the maturity that the situation demanded, and a majestic pull was followed by two square drives as he clattered 12 off one Shoaib over. But he fell soon after tea, hanging his bat indecisively to a short one from Sami, as Inzamam latched on to a straightforward chance at first slip.
Chaminda Vaas and Rangana Herath displayed some gumption to provide Samaraweera with some critical support, as he soldiered on towards his hundred. He needed three more when bad light stopped play, and unlike his previous three hundreds, which had all come in run-feasts, this innings helped Sri Lanka wriggle out of a really tight corner.
Samaraweera's knock ensured that Sri Lanka didn't sink, but thanks to that devastating early burst, Pakistan still held the initiative at the close.