Jayawardene reasserts his thrill for the fight
When Dinesh Chandimal fell hooking in the 11th over of the day, Bilawal Bhatti practically begged Misbah-ul-Haq for the ball. In the huddle, passing through at the end of the over, standing at his position at point, Bhatti made himself hard to miss.
His last three balls to Mahela Jayawardene had all been nicked or gloved behind the stumps, and now, an injured Jayawardene had arrived one position below his normal haunt. Bold, youthful Bhatti smelled blood.
When Misbah acceded a few overs later, Bhatti knew exactly what he would bowl. In the first innings in Abu Dhabi, Jayawardene had nicked a short one, was recalled thanks to a no-ball, then edged behind again immediately, as Bhatti pitched one up on off stump. It was the same yorker Bhatti tried first-up here. Jayawardene jammed his bat down and the ball caught the edge once more. This time it had struck enough willow to stay low to the ground and sped away for four.
Hurtling in, Pakistan's fastest bowler felt the batsman was still a victim in waiting. He was at the body at over 140kph, but Jayawardene defused him securely at first, then when he saw one pitched up, tried to cover drive him. He mistimed the ball so badly, vibrations in his bat handle forced his sore left hand off the bat in a flash. No winces or cries of anguish, but Bhatti knew he had hurt his man.
Next over, Bhatti determined, more pain should come. One at the waist first-up, but it was too far down leg and Jayawardene turned it fine with little discomfort. When Jayawardene got back on strike, Bhatti found his target. In the second innings in Abu Dhabi, one that reared off a length took the top of Jayawardene's right glove and floated to gully. Another lifter struck the same glove here, but the impact absorbed the ball's venom, and it fell dead, to the pitch. It wasn't the ailing hand Bhatti would have preferred to hit, but he stomped close to Jayawardene's grille nonetheless, to hurl a few words and stare.
Jayawardene may have been the one wearing stitches, but Bhatti was also hamstrung. The ball had zipped off the seam in the first two sessions of the previous day, but there was so little in it now, he sought to blast the batsman out, if he could not outdo him with movement. Bouncers whistled overhead as Jayawardene hunkered down.
There were certain shots he had resolved not to play because they hurt too much, but when one of Bhatti's missiles fired wide, Jayawardene climbed up instantly and slapped it behind point, in the air. There was little control neither in that shot, nor in several other aggressive cross-batted strokes in the day, but he chose the wide open spaces so his top hand would not be taxed by the effort.
"Initially I knew that I can't force anything," Jayawardene said. "I had to use the pace of the Pakistani bowlers, so I wasn't really trying to drive the ball. I was just punching gaps and rotating the strike, but anything to cut I was comfortable with using the pace, so I was waiting for those kinds of deliveries. Probably the limitations helped me because I had to change my whole game plan today according to that. Even with Saeed Ajmal I couldn't sweep him that well, because the wrist would twist. I didn't sweep him that much in this match."
Bhatti's onslaught subsided as lunch approached. He would come back close to tea, bringing an even faster, fiercer short barrage with him, but as in their first skirmish, Jayawardene ducked, dived, swerved and wore him down. When the second session ended, he had struck only one boundary in front of square - a calculated slog off Saeed Ajmal into the vacant leg side.
Whatever is said about the state of Jayawardene's reflexes at 36, or about his ability to counter the moving ball, his attritional triumph over Bhatti showcased an enduring head for battle.
Short on weapons today, but steeled by stress of his first-Test failures, he finished the day in a different universe of batting confidence from the one in which he had begun. In the 84th over Rahat Ali overpitched the second new ball and in his first truly elegant moment, Jayawardene pushed the ball through mid-on, clinging to the turf from bat to boundary, as only men in form can do.
Perhaps many will write off his 32nd hundred as just another ton in Asian conditions, as if Jayawardene should be embarrassed about his aptitude for playing spin and winning matches at home. But in a tour that has been about young players emerging for Sri Lanka, Jayawardene's thrill for the fight proved he remains as relevant as he has always been.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here