Mushtaq backs rusty bowlers to come good
Pakistan have not played a Test since the UAE series against Sri Lanka in January, and the long layoff is affecting their bowlers' ability to find their stride, according to the team's bowling consultant Mushtaq Ahmed.
The visitors' batsmen had no such trouble in Galle, as they amassed 451 in the first innings, but the Pakistan bowlers were able to take only two wickets in 80 overs. Kumar Sangakkara scored a hundred and Mahela Jayawardene made a half-century as the pair shared an unbroken 108-run stand for the third wicket and countered the spin threat from Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. Junaid Khan and Mohamamd Talha bowled with determination but had poor results.
"Momentum was definitely missing and obviously there is a reason - we haven't played Tests for so long," Mushtaq told ESPNcricinfo. "Whatever and however you practice, match practice is something that has no equal. These boys last played some seven months back, which isn't an excuse but we still have a lot of cricket left ahead and one good session can bring back the push."
Pakistan bowled 46 overs on the third day and rain washed out the other 44. They are unlikely to lose, but a draw is increasingly becoming the most likely outcome because their bowlers, although economical, have not looked like taking wickets. Kaushal Silva, the only batsman dismissed on the third day, fell against the run of play.
Sangakkara is among few batsmen who play Ajmal with control. He has scored 458 runs against the offspinner and been dismissed only three times. Sangakkara's 2588 runs against Pakistan since 2002 are the most by any batsman against any country in that period.
"Because he [Sangakkara] has played ample cricket against us, he understands his [Ajmal's] variation better than any other batsman in the world," Mushtaq said. "But the other side is Ajmal should be one step ahead of Sangakkara to counter him and he does talk about it. There are things that we are planning to use which Sanga might be unaware of, but it goes with the flow." Ajmal has bowled 29 overs without a wicket in Sri Lanka's first innings.
"Meanwhile the wicket is playing very slow and we have no time to do experiments at the moment but try to get our basics right," Mushtaq said. "I am sure this pitch may deteriorate in later days and he [Ajmal] can restore his lost momentum. It's all a matter of one good spell and you are back in business."
Ajmal had enjoyed a successful partnership with Abdur Rehman when Pakistan beat England 3-0 in the UAE in 2011-12, but Rehman has not been a regular in the Test XI since then. Rehman was also wicketless in his 17 overs in Galle. "He [Rehman] has been in and out over the last few years and for a left-arm spinner it really tough to regain flow instantly.
"I think he got rusty and he needs more than a session to get the right length. Bowlers like Rehman need some time and his partnership with Ajmal is very important for the team. He is the one who actually shares Ajmal's workload and the combination of such bowlers guarding both ends helps the captain a lot."
The lengths bowled by Junaid and Talha wavered through the day and their short-ball strategy was ineffective on a sluggish pitch. Mushtaq spoke about the management's plan to let the fast bowlers try and induce a mistake from the batsmen. "The plan is to nudge them and invite them to play big shot otherwise pitch isn't helping at all," Mushtaq said. "With every spell of the rain the pitch is getting damp and hence we had to do something to break the partnership."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson