Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 1st day January 16, 2014

Ajmal finds form in slow battle


Sri Lanka 220 for 5 (Sangakkara 52, Ajmal 2-62) v Pakistan
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The Sharjah surface - largely devoid of pace, lateral movement and turn - provided the setting for a game of patience on the first day of the deciding Test of the series. Sri Lanka, needing only a draw to win their first away series since 1999-00 (excluding those in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), batted with caution to wear the bowlers down on a pitch that was not conducive for shot making because of its slowness.

Pakistan's attack, however, was resolute and remained accurate throughout. The upshot was a stalemate of sorts, with a run-rate of 2.44 and only five wickets falling in 90 overs.

Pakistan's spinners played a defining role. The left-armer Abdur Rehman, who replaced the injured Bilawal Bhatti, varied his pace and trajectory, and constantly attacked the stumps with tremendous accuracy to return figures of 24-9-45-1.

Pakistan's biggest gain, however, was Saeed Ajmal's return to form. Having taken only five wickets in 114.2 ovrs in the first two Tests, Ajmal was wicketless for 17 overs today before he inflicted two quick blows to severely erode Sri Lanka's position. Ajmal also tested the batsmen consistently with his flight and variations, and had an economy rate of only 2.13 after 29 overs.

Misbah-ul-Haq's team would have had a better day, too, had they had more luck with umpire decisions and used the review system cleverly. They reviewed not-out lbw decisions against Dimuth Karunaratne and Angelo Mathews, but replays ruled in favour of the batsman by narrow margins. Had either of those appeals, from Ajmal and Rehman, been upheld by the on-field umpire, those decisions would not have been overturned had the batsmen asked for a review.

The Mathews moment was Pakistan's 13th failed review, out of 14 in this series. They also had an out decision overturned when replays indicated, quite bizarrely, that the ball would have passed high over the stumps, after Prasanna Jayawardene had been struck below the knee roll by Ajmal. The batsman had made a long stride forward but the predicted bounce was of a degree not consistent with what had been seen before on this surface.

And then there were the missed opportunities. Three deliveries after the failed review against Karunaratne, and before the batsman had added to his 14, he inside-edged Ajmal on to his pad; the wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, however, was so busy appealing for an lbw that he didn't bother catching the ball. On 15, Sangakkara tried to sweep Rehman and the ball lobbed off the glove to Younis Khan at first slip, but because they had only one review remaining Pakistan decided not to use it to try and overturn the not-out decision. Sangakkara went on to make 52.

And late in the day, Mohammad Talha dropped Mathews before he had scored the first of his 24 runs, though it was a difficult chance off his own bowling. That Pakistan's resolve did not waver despite those setbacks was to their credit, considering the pitch.

The early signs for the fast bowlers weren't encouraging. With the new ball doing nothing off a good length, they resorted to bouncing the batsmen to try and unsettle them. Pakistan made the first breakthrough when Talha, playing his first match since his debut in the terror-stricken Test in Lahore in 2009, was brought back for his second spell, after Junaid had bowled seven consecutive overs on a sunny day. Running in hard, he got a couple of balls to straighten off the pitch and one of them took the edge of Kaushal Silva's bat, ending the opening stand on 31.

Rehman had bowled only two overs in the first session and he struck immediately after the break, beating Karunaratne in the flight to induce an edge to first slip. Mahela Jayawardene, his split webbing not yet fully healed, came in at 65 for 2 to forge a 60-run stand with Sangakkara.

The next breakthrough came out of the blue, after Sangakkara had just passed 50 with a classy straight drive off Junaid. Two balls later he flicked firmly, but also uppishly, and Khurram Manzoor held the catch at midwicket.

The first two sessions had yielded only 133 runs in 57 overs but Mahela was far more aggressive after tea, accelerating towards a half-century. He did not get there, though, because Ajmal induced an inside edge that lobbed off the pad to short leg. Shortly afterwards, Dinesh Chandimal mis-hit a doosra from Ajmal and was caught by Asad Shafiq running back from mid-on. Sri Lanka had lost three wickets for 41.

Mathews and Prasanna prevented against any further damage by painstakingly adding 54 runs in 24.4 overs. Both batsmen were beaten by Junaid's reverse swing, though, and fortunate to survive reviews against the spinners. How long they, and Sri Lanka's tail, last on the second day could shape the result of the series.

George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sanka on January 22, 2014, 23:54 GMT

    VKohlitheGreat: Just to refresh the memory, search "Sanga walks to a salute" online. That was an IPL match where there's no DRS. Sanga could've easily stayed. Where as this match did have DRS, umpire wasn't convinced and Pakistan players weren't confident to use their review. Saurav Ganguly once told a press conference that he was not a walker and justified this policy by saying "I have been given out a number of times when I was not, so you have got to make up at some stage". May be same crossed Sanga's mind.

  • Buddhika on January 17, 2014, 9:25 GMT

    @CricSriLanka Check following Statics Most runs Angelo Mathews 357 Kaushal Silva 271 Younis Khan 239 Misbah-ul-Haq 233 FDM Karunaratne 190 DPMD Jayawardene (SL) 181 KC Sangakkara 158 What happened to your favorite Sanga and Mahela both r 7 and 6 in the Most Run Scorers list. I agree Prasanna played loose shot and get out then what do u say about Sanga's out. it isn't loose shot?.clearly it's d worst shot played in that match. @BladeRunner I think before degrading our youngsters check following link;type=series U can understand how well SL youngsters played compare with your favorite old horses Mahela and Sanga.

  • John on January 17, 2014, 8:55 GMT

    @TommytuckerSaffa ; What a stupid comment that is. "Teams need to be scoring at a minimum of 3 runs per over to be considered as top tier teams" lol Hey, you are a saffa,right ?? Why don't come to Sri Lanka 'n check if you are really a top tier team ??

  • Cricket on January 17, 2014, 8:52 GMT

    One pathetic player (HAFEEZ) replaced by another one (AZHAR). What difference will it make. When the Sri Lankans are batting we are being told that the pitch has gone to sleep. But when the Pakistanis will come out to bat we will be told that the pitch has started doing something. The fact is that if you look at the match closely, the Sri Lanka are really working hard and applying themselves. I think by now it is clear that Pakistan is loosing this match, because in the last 3 years we have seen that they do not have the capacity to draw a match.

    Averages - - - Test - - - Frist class

    M.HAFEEZ - - - 33.96 - 34.84

    AZHAR Ali - - 38.53 - 36.18

    ASAD Shafiq - 37.08 - 38.44

    FAWAD Alam - 41.66 - 55.75

    HARIS Sohail - - - - - - 52.01

    Accoridig to these figures the guys at the top three should not be in the team and the last two guys should be in, But they are not.

    ESPNCricinfo, please publish.

  • Dummy4 on January 17, 2014, 8:39 GMT

    you know what, if both jayawardene and sanga calls it a day together, the srilankan team would be a big zero in their batting department. It would be worse than india without sachin/dravid/laxman .

  • Nilantha on January 17, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    Well played by Mathews and Perera, 300 up and we still looking ok. If we can get to 350 then that is a very good innings on this track. Again as i said before, this is not an easy track to bat on..Unlucky Pakistan had used up there referrals as they could have got a few wickets had they kept them in hand..keep going Mathews and Lanka...

  • Manoj on January 17, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    It is not a surprise that we never won the ICC Spirit of the Award which SLteam, Mahela twise and Great Sanga once won. This award is only for the gentlemen who preserve the spirit of the game.

  • Dummy4 on January 17, 2014, 8:35 GMT

    This is more like 1990s test cricket , both teams playing like they just want to play it out 5 days for some ones sake .Oh come on, 220/5 in one day and still playing like they got 6 days left ,I gotta say its damn boring

  • Chirath on January 17, 2014, 8:32 GMT

    Have to say, im a bit disappointed in the way Sri Lankans have batted in this Test.Pakistan have bowled well, but it seems like we are playing for draw right from the moment Angelo Mathews won the toss. I reckon Don Bradman scored at a faster rate than this.

    Thats the problem with us Asians, the moment we take a lead in the series, we dont want to push on for more wins. Wasim Akram once put it quite accurately when he said "In our culture, we get satisfied too easily". Regardless of what people say abt the Aussies, the one thing i have always admired about them is the fact that always look to win every match as possible. If we are to be top Test Team we gotta look to win every Test Match

  • greig on January 17, 2014, 8:12 GMT

    Teams need to be scoring at a minimum of 3 runs per over to be considered as top tier teams. This slow batting is killing test cricket.

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