March 9, 2000

Muralitharan spins Sri Lanka into winning position

Pakistan struggling to level series despite Youhana's 88

Peshawar, March 8: Muttiah Muralitharan captured two wickets off successive deliveries to swing the balance of the second cricket Test and the series towards Sri Lanka's way as Pakistan were left reeling at 222 for eight at stumps on the fourth day here at the Arbab Niaz Stadium on Wednesday.

Pakistan, chasing a target of 294 to keep the series alive had recovered from a precarious 145 for five to 222 for six and were progressing smoothly with Yousuf Youhana belting the Sri Lankan bowlers at will.

But in the closing moments of the day, Muralitharan trapped Youhana in front of the stumps and then had Waqar Younis caught at silly point off the next ball to change the entire complexion of the game.

When play resumes on the final day tomorrow (Thursday), Muralitharan will be on a hat trick with Pakistan requiring further 72 runs for victory.

Pakistan have never been good chasers in the fourth innings of a Test. Only once they scored 315 to beat Australia by one wicket at Karachi five years ago.

Here Pakistan's hopes now rest completely with skipper Saeed Anwar who is batting on 32 after returning to the crease at 208 for six having retired hurt at 30 when the home team were 86 for three.

The left-hander had a horrifying collision with umpire Mohammad Nazir Junior, who celebrated his 54th birthday today, when he crashed his head right into the former off-spinner's midriff while sprinting to gain his crease at the non-striker's end.

Such was the intensity of the crash that Nazir Junior went flying and fell about four yards away. However, Nazir was able to regain his ground but Saeed remained motionless for a while. He tried to resume his innings after a 10-minute stoppage but decided to walk off the field a ball later.

The Pakistan captain was taken to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH), Peshawar, where he underwent precautionary tests and X-rays. Much to the relief of everyone, the injury turned out to be a neck sprain.

Yousuf Youhana played a stroke-filled innings but the Pakistan team was once again let down by the some careless and casual selection of strokes by the top-order.

Shahid Afridi threw his wicket by dancing down the track and being stumped, Inzamam-ul-Haq played a casual looking forward defensive stroke to be caught at silly point, Aamir Sohail became victim of poor judgement by English umpire John Hampshire (who gave him out caught at silly point off his pad), Younis Khan was held at gully while trying to play away from his body and Abdur Razzaq never looked comfortable in his 50-ball knock of five before he played back to Muralitharan and was adjudged leg before.

However, at that stage,Youhana found a dependable partner in debutant Atiq-uz-Zaman.

The two batsmen took the Sri Lankan bowlers by the scruff of their necks and plundered them to all parts of the field. Their blistering stroke-play pushed the panic button in the Sri Lankan camp as the fielders started to fumble the ball and Sanath Jayasuriya was forced to spread out his fielders in deeper positions.

But left-arm pacer Chaminda Vaas returned to uproot Atiq's exposed leg stump to end an enterprising 63-run sixth wicket stand in 59 minutes. The diminutive wicket-keeper scored 25 with three boundaries.

Youhana continued to bat with freedom and hammered three massive sixes and eight boundaries before succumbing to his impetuosity. He faced 132 deliveries during his 171-minute batting. When he reached 45, he completed 1,000 runs in 31st innings of 17th Test.

Youhana played every shot described in the textbooks and the lady luck also favoured him when he was floored twice by Ravindra Pushpakumara when 60 and 73.

While Youhana's magnificent batting may go in vain, Muralitharan's splendid display of off-spin bowling and Russel Arnold's cool and calculated 99 is likely to help Sri Lanka record their second successive series win over Pakistan in Pakistan.

Sri Lanka, who lead 1-0 after winning in Rawalpindi by two wickets, had come from behind to win 2-1 on the 1995-96 tour.

Muralitharan is having a dream 50th Test. After scoring a 13-ball 22 in Sri Lanka's first innings, he captured four for 77 in Pakistan's first innings and followed that with figures of five for 71. The wily off-spinner bowled with teasing line and length and spun the ball viciously.

The left-handed Arnold was unfortunate to miss his third Test century by one run but his solid innings helped Sri Lanka reach 224 after having resumed this morning at 129 for five.

Arnold, who is also the first Sri Lankan to be dismissed on 99, became the third batsman after Inzamam (3) and Mark Taylor to fall prey to nervous 90s on this ground. His 299-minute knock was studded with 13 boundaries and a six.

Arnold, who began the day on 63, was involved in the highest partnership of the match when he added 79 for the sixth wicket with Aravinda de Silva (33). The stand was broken by Aamir Sohail as de Silva's dismissal saw Sri Lanka lose their last five wickets for 36 runs