Pakistan take top-order pluses from draw
Pakistan enjoyed positives in the shape of their top-order's form, despite flittering away their first-innings advantage in what turned out to be a tame draw in Abu Dhabi. The contest might not have been a thrilling one, thanks to the unresponsive surface, as both teams failed to get the opposition all out in the second innings, but Mohammad Hafeez scored his first Test half-century in 12 innings, while debutant Ahmed Shehzad showed he could produce at this level.
Pakistan's previous opening pair of Shan Masood and Khurram Manzoor was separated to give Shehzad a go, while Azhar Ali was left out to allow Hafeez to bat at No. 3. The new combination came off, despite Manzoor failing - he now has 0, 0, 21 and 8 in his last four innings. Hafeez was unbeaten on 80 in the second innings, while Shehzad followed up 38 with 55.
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq was pleased to have the duo showing good signs. "It's important that we have our [top-order] batsmen in form," he said. "We have got ample positives out of the game as Hafeez converted his one-day form into Test form, while another plus for us is Ahmed. He is a good batsman and technically sound player."
Pakistan, arguably, could have tried something different in Sri Lanka's second innings to drag the game in their favour. Pakistan played with four specialist bowlers, with part-timer Hafeez being the fifth. They conceded 480 runs in 168.3 overs in the second innings, with Rahat Ali and Saeed Ajmal combining for 87.3 wicketless overs, but Misbah restrained himself from using Hafeez, or the part-time legbreaks of Shehzad.
When asked if he could have used his part-time bowlers to change things up, Misbah said the pitch was unresponsive anyway. "Later the spinners couldn't play their part on the sort of pitch we had - and that was a setback for both teams. They didn't contribute at all, that's the reason both teams weren't able to get all the batsmen out."
Pakistan subsequently had 67 overs to chase 302. Misbah said they had drawn up a plan to go for the win, but opted for the draw after Shehzad's dismissal. "With the first three batsmen, we just wanted to build partnerships. Our plan was that if we could reach around of 170-180 with 8-9 wickets in hand, then we could push on. But when Ahmed Shehzad got out and with one man short [Adnan Akmal was unfit], at that stage we thought we should go for the draw."
Misbah admitted Pakistan still had work to do on their batting, as they were in a position to take an even bigger first-innings lead but fell from 329 for 4 to 383 all out. "We need to work on our batting more as we at one stage were 350 for 4 and suddenly 383 all out. We should have got 450 odd runs on board to have big lead to put pressure on the opposition."
Misbah praised his counterpart Angelo Mathews for showing fight to earn Sri Lanka a respectable draw. "Test cricket is all about fluctuations. After getting somebody out in the first innings, you can't just think you've won the match," said Misbah."Mathews' innings [of 157 not out] is how teams fight back.
"They fought hard and batted well. Mathews batted very well and turned the match. The pitch was still doing a little bit, offering a bit on the fourth day, so credit should be given to the Sri Lanka batsman. They applied themselves very well. The ball was swinging but I think they, especially Mathews, played so well."
Despite Pakistan claiming just the one wicket on day four - Junaid thus missed out becoming the only Pakistan fast bowler to take 10 wickets in a match since 2009 - Misbah backed his bowlers. "Our bowling has been outstanding in first innings and also in the second one. They bowled in good areas but remained unlucky. Even if they [Sri Lanka] batted well, they still got sharply beaten, got edges that fell a bit short of fielders … So somehow the luck factor played its part and in the end both team ended up with a draw."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here