Pakistan take fight into final day
Pakistan 165 (Manzoor 73, Pradeep 3-62, Herath 3-26) and 330 for 7 (Misbah 97, Younis 77, Sarfraz 70*) lead Sri Lanka 388 (Mahela 129, Silva 95) by 107 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Pakistan's leader Misbah-ul-Haq batted with limitless patience and rookie Sarfraz Ahmed punched his way to a maiden half-century to give their side a glimmer of hope of saving a Test that once seemed lost. Pakistan painstakingly accumulated 198 runs on the fourth day but lost only four wickets, and with some rain forecast in Dubai on Sunday, Sri Lanka could get nervous if Sarfraz and the tail extend the lead much beyond 107.
It requires tremendous confidence in one's skills for a batsman to remain scoreless for a long period and then plod along unperturbed at his own, unattractive pace. Not many in the modern game have the mental strength to bat like Misbah does. He resumed on 53 off 119 balls, and then stayed scoreless during the first hour, making his first run off his 37th delivery. When he was dismissed for 97 shortly before tea, Misbah had taken 129 deliveries to score 44 on the fourth day and ensured Sri Lanka would have to bat a second time.
After Misbah's vigil came to an end, Sarfraz upped Pakistan's tempo in the company of two-Test old Bilawal Bhatti. They played shots on a pitch that had become unresponsive for the bowlers, and though Sri Lanka's attack did not err, the runs came faster. Pakistan scored 65 runs in 21.3 overs after tea, after making 133 runs in 53 overs in the first two sessions.
Though Sri Lanka's breakthroughs were few and far between, each strike set Pakistan back a long way because of their sedate scoring. And whether Misbah's stagnation in the morning had an impact on his more experienced partner Younis Khan is arguable. With Pakistan trailing by 91 at the start, Younis had made the early play against Sri Lanka's seamers, driving with the fluency that had brought him a half-century the previous evening.
He had been standing outside his crease to negate the swing though, and when Suranga Lakmal sent down a short and wide ball outside off stump, the extra bounce resulted in a top edge as Younis tried to cut and Prasanna Jayawardene took his fourth catch. With no runs coming at the other end, perhaps Younis had felt the need to hack at the deficit whenever he could. The fourth-wicket stand had produced 129 and Younis was gone for 77.
Only after the first drinks break did Misbah get going, by flicking Lakmal to long leg for two. Maybe that brought on a little adrenalin surge for Misbah as he pushed hard at the next ball and edged to collect a boundary to third man. And after that he was struck on the pad by one that seamed in, but the lbw appeal was turned down because the impact had been too high. Misbah subsequently slowed up again and only turned aggressive when Rangana Herath was brought on late in the session, slog-sweeping the spinner's first ball to the boundary.
Misbah's partner in a 52-run stand for the fifth wicket, Asad Shafiq, also batted cautiously, but with flashes of colour. When Shaminda Eranga or Nuwan Pradeep gave him width, Shafiq flayed his bat to cut to the point boundary. He also drilled Herath hard down the ground but between those shots, he was measured.
Shafiq countered Eranga's reverse swing with the old ball by getting his front outside off and defending confidently. When the new ball was taken, however, Eranga began to seam the odd delivery away and Shafiq was less sure of his footwork. He ended up prodding at an away-going delivery and edged to second slip. Pakistan were still 23 behind.
Sarfraz was the most brisk of Pakistan's batsmen. Sri Lanka always felt they had a chance when he was on strike but Sarfraz made crisp contact with his shots. His 45-run partnership with Misbah came at more than three runs an over and gave Pakistan the lead. In the last half hour before tea, however, Herath drifted the ball into the right-hander from round the wicket, pitched on middle, and spun it past the outside edge of the bat offered in forward defence to hit off stump. Misbah had been dismissed on 97, leaving some in the Pakistan dressing room in shock. They were only 22 ahead.
If Sri Lanka had hopes of a four-day finish, they were squashed by Sarfraz and Bhatti, who continued their enterprising alliance in the final session by playing busily. Sarfraz brought up his 50 off 73 balls, and enjoyed a let-off on 51 when Lakmal could not hang on to a return catch.
As the lead grew closer to a 100, Angelo Mathews spread his catchers and it needed an inswinging yorker from Eranga to break the partnership on 67. Bhatti did extremely well to jam his bat down on the ball, but it snuck through to clip leg stump before he could swat it away.
Sarfraz became more careful in the company of the first tailender Saeed Ajmal, and played for stumps as it grew darker and began to drizzle. With the umpires checking their light meters often, Sri Lanka gave Kumar Sangakkara a bowl for only the fourth time in Tests in the absence of any proper part-timers in their wicketkeeper-laden XI. His only over cost seven and took Pakistan's lead past 100.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo