Sri Lanka still rough around the edges
As Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan measured out another expert association, Sri Lanka's advance was halted in Dubai. Having lost the first two days comfortably Pakistan mustered more spirit on day three, and in doing so, exposed a small, but not insignificant gap in Sri Lanka's ranks.
The batting and bowling appear much healthier than they did two weeks ago, but in the margins, limitations persist, and there appear to be no ready fixes yet.
There are four wicketkeepers in Sri Lanka's top seven. Of the three others, Dimuth Karunaratne and Mahela Jayawardene almost bowl, in the nets or in domestic cricket. Angelo Mathews once had ambitions of becoming a genuine allrounder, but as an average of 71.66 after 279 Test overs makes plain, his mix of steady seam-up, cutters and slower balls are only a serious penetrative threat in limited-overs cricket. Between captaining the side and continuing his own development as a batsman, he must avoid stretching himself, in any case.
There appears to be no viable short-term solutions for Sri Lanka. One option is for Prasanna Jayawardene to make way for an allrounder, but the objections to such a move are threefold. First, he is clearly the best gloveman in the country, and robbing the attack of their best catching asset appears counterproductive to the bowlers' development.
Prasanna does not own a glimmering batting record, but he regularly plays valuable support innings and is versatile enough to marshal the tail. Perhaps most pertinently, there are no pre-eminent allrounders to replace him. Thisara Perera is the most obvious candidate, but lately he has had trouble proving he does enough work to hold a place in the limited-overs sides.
Elsewhere on the fringe, the slip cordon is in poor shape. The present first-choice phalanx features Kumar Sangakkara at first slip, Mahela Jayawardene at second, and Mathews at third. Neither Mathews nor Sangakkara have proved natural slip-fielders, which is perhaps why the two Jayewardenes are split evenly between them. Mathews dropped a catch early in the first innings, before Karunaratne spilt a sitter at second slip after Mahela left the field with injury. Apart from Kaushal Silva's sharp work in the infield, Sri Lanka's fielding has been shabby throughout the series.
Sri Lanka may have also begun day three with hopes of extending their lead beyond 300, or at least until such time as the pitch began to take significant turn, but they were easily thwarted by a regenerated Pakistan. Their last six wickets fell for 70, and though Mathews, and the two Jayawardenes would have hoped for more runs themselves, the Sri Lanka tail is hardly well-placed to offer sustained resistance.
Perhaps on this front there is some hope, because it is thought Shaminda Eranga has not reached his batting potential. But like elsewhere in a young team the development of his first skill is more vital to Sri Lanka's success, and his coaches will be wary of diluting his focus there.
As coach Graham Ford suggested at the close of play, the cricketers that plug shortcomings in the team must be bred at home. Until the inexperienced players in the present XI become more secure in Tests, only minor improvements may be possible within the team itself.
"It's been a concern certainly since I've been involved," Ford said. "We haven't quite had the allrounder, or maybe two allrounders, that give a real balance to the side. We've had the specialist batters and the specialist bowlers and that's pretty much what we've worked with. That's for the system to look into. They're out there working hard at home to try and produce some allrounders.
"In the past they've had Sanath Jayasuriya who could do a good job with the ball and who was an outstanding batsman. They also had Chaminda Vaas who could do a really good job with the bat but his main job was to be a strike bowlers. That helped with the balance of the side. We don't really have that at the moment so the batsmen have to get out and make the runs and the bowlers have to take wickets."
In a series that has unveiled unsuspected skill from young men, these are miniscule contentions, particularly given the absence of a clear alternative. But if the team wishes to become a consistent force against the top four teams, gains around the edges will matter.
A spotless effort in the field and more fire from the tail might have grown Sri Lanka's lead by 40 runs. Overs from a competent second spinner in the third session may have allowed the quicks to return fresher on the fourth morning. Mathews's reluctance to bowl due to a niggle enhanced the deficiency in personnel, but given the history of his ailments, Sri Lanka cannot always bank on overs from him.
Sri Lanka have hinted they possess the ingredients of a fine, future-proof Test team, but a little all-round dynamism might make the end product more appetising.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here