Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 2nd day January 17, 2014

Sri Lanka take comfort from new heroes

Fourteen months on from fielding their oldest ever XI in a Test, Sri Lanka have regenerated at great speed and now brought to the fore, a talented crop of youngsters who are bound to leave the fans very excited for the future

Bowlers bowling well, batsmen batting better, Pakistan toiling, Sri Lanka staying patient, earnest line-and-length, flat pitches and attrition. Day two in Sharjah has mimicked so many others in an abrasive series, but for the visitors, there was something new to cheer for.

If Sri Lanka's strategy in dry pitches such as this could be summed up in a phrase, it is probably- bat first, bat big and let the spinners loose. In Sharjah, they attempted a return to that blueprint. Though two of their old juggernauts remained, it was Sri Lanka's new heroes, wielding an unfamiliar mode of operation, who were best at bolstering the team's position. After the long break in Tests, this tour was perhaps always going to be one of discovery, but few would have expected to unearth so much resilience in so many places.

Angelo Mathews is having the series of his career so far. He arrived in the UAE as a captain-in-training but will depart with unequivocal authority in his station, having orchestrated a furious counterattack, a resourceful fightback, and now, a stalling knock that appears to have fenced Sri Lanka's lead in the series. His batting on day two is perhaps not the kind of Test cricket that inspires fans to pay close attention to every ball, but there was no mistaking Mathews' concentration against good Test bowling, despite the docile surface.

The 164 dot balls in his innings show that Mathews was content to refuse what Pakistan did not give freely. Good judgement of both the bowling and the surface were his biggest assets in his vigil, but having arrived in the Sri Lanka team with a taste for aggression, his self-restraint against Pakistan has been remarkable. Until he perished (perhaps suddenly innervated by the prospect of another trip to triple-figures), Mathews had barely touched anything that was not threatening the stumps, save the balls short enough for him to cut.

Grinding his runs out not only helped frustrate the opposition - an emotion manifested most conspicuously in Saeed Ajmal- but it was also a percentage play on a pitch that has shown signs that its deterioration is imminent. Sri Lanka have bossed the series, and did not need to shake its glacial pace. Pakistan must now attack on day three if they are to reel in Sri Lanka fast enough to level the score. And even if they achieve parity in the first innings, a fourth-innings chase to win the match is only likely on the fifth day, when Sri Lanka's spinners will pose significant menace.

Mathews has also inspired calmness in less-experienced batsmen at the other end in this series - another sign of his burgeoning leadership ability. He had put up vital stands with Shaminda Eranga and Dinesh Chandimal in Abu Dhabi, and in Sharjah, helped guide Dilruwan Perera to the highest ever score by a Sri Lanka debutant away from home.

"The wicket is still a little hard to score on, so Angie told me to stay at the crease and that the two of us should try to extend the team's total," Dilruwan said. "I'm disappointed to miss out on 100, especially because not many Sri Lankans have done it on debut. The pull shot I played to get out was the only time I played that shot to a fast bowler. But at the same time, I'm happy about my 95."

Few would have expected Sri Lanka to have earned such a dominant place in the series without a major contribution from the likes of Kumar Sangakkara and Rangana Herath, but players like Dilruwan, Kaushal Silva and the fast bowlers have made surprising leaps to assure fans the future is not as bleak as once imagined. Sri Lanka played their oldest ever Test XI against New Zealand in 2012, but 14 months hence, they appear to be regenerating at speed.

It helps that Pakistan are an opposition they enjoy playing against. In their 13 most recent encounters, Sri Lanka have only lost once, though only the future challenges may be a better barometer.

In this match, Sri Lanka have also benefited from some good fortune via the margin for umpires' call in the DRS system. Three 50-50 decisions went their way on day one, and two more came on Friday as Pakistan exhausted all their reviews. Had an equal share of the contentious decisions fallen Pakistan's way, Sri Lanka might not have managed even 300 in the first innings, particularly if Sangakkara's gloved catch had also not been overlooked and Mathews' return catch on 0 been snaffled.

If Sri Lanka can protect their lead or even go one better, they will leave the UAE satisfied not only with the win, but also with their youngsters who would have all been instrumental in achieving it.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 18, 2014, 6:04 GMT

    @sushantsingh - Really express your pain as SL going to WIN the series. We know it is bit shame for your country. Becos IND Can not play against PAK spins.

  • udendra on January 18, 2014, 5:54 GMT

    the influence Mathews has on others is immense. He is sure to be Ranatunga 2.0 some day.

  • Dru on January 18, 2014, 5:48 GMT

    Finally after a long time the younger players of the team are showing some real mettle for SL which is great to see. Mathews has been sensational this series which will probably be a career defining series as both a batter and a captain regardelss of the outcome of this test. SL also unearthed a good opening batter in Kaushal and seam bowlers with less than 10 tests under the belt showed some good form and talent. Not sure why there are negative comments about the run rate -this is after all test cricket!

  • Shashika on January 18, 2014, 4:42 GMT

    SL supporters do not mind whether indians, austrailians or british people lost their appetite for test cricket by watching this match.. What we want is series win in a neutral venue after 14 years.. If SL played attarking cricket and lost the match,, everyone I mentioned above will be very much happy and criticize SL team for not saving the last test.. So this match is between SL and PAK.. We dont mind other people's appetite.. Simple enough.. We are not playing to increase the Test appetite in other countries.. We are playing for a win.. So who cares what others say..

  • Cham on January 18, 2014, 3:55 GMT

    @kingkarthik, subcontinental conditions??? did u even watch the LAST two test matches??? the seamers in both sides easily outbowled the spinners.! How is that 'subcontinental conditions'?

  • Pasenadee on January 18, 2014, 2:30 GMT

    Matthews is dropping anchor in this role perfectly. He seems to have the Steve Waugh disease of getting himself out in the 90s. This type of consistent start will be good for the confidence of the débutantes. Hopefully they will get hungry for more runs and to beat top opposition in the future on all type of tracks. Lets see if SL can hold their composure for the full five days and clinch a win. The next big test will be in England after the embarrassment they suffered last tour. There is a pace bowling outfit that needs to prove it self as well as these young guns in the bat.

  • Karthik on January 18, 2014, 0:56 GMT

    Can we all keep our heads please!!! Yes SL have performed well during the last 2 and half matches. But lets not lose sight that this is against an erratic Pakistan side in subcontinental conditions in Dubai. The Zimbabwean team won against Pakistan in a test team sometime back. So good performance against Pakistan do not count for much. The true measure of success would be for this team to beat Australia, South Africa and India either at home or away. Or to beat New Zealand and England at their homes. Or at least compete leave alone beat. Then lets hails about new hope and so on.

  • sushant on January 18, 2014, 0:52 GMT

    Really shameful display by SriLanka.......I am an Indian and watching yesterday play just bored me.......Pathetic captain Matthews and all the others were pathetic.......this so much negative attitude will bring there downfall, maybe not in this series but in Bangladesh and Asia cup.......and we all know that they will be thrashed in England Due to this negative cricket others such as Aus, Eng, NZ & India does not call them to play 3 test series.......because they know the negativity will be more than enough for 2 tests

  • Cricinfouser on January 17, 2014, 23:22 GMT

    Test cricket is real cricket, or so the experts say, but if this is the real taste of test cricket no wonder people are moving away from the dinner table. Srilanka played very defensive cricket and betrayed nerves of an insecure side. Champion sides go for a win not for a dour draw. 400 runs scored in two full days tell its own story but what it does not tell is another story: this is Pakistan's home soil (well, almost) and if they lose interest of the public in test matches here, it would do them great dis-service.

    Overall, both teams look off color and it is displays like this that strengthen the call for a two tier test system.

  • Josh on January 17, 2014, 18:25 GMT

    Calm and calculated batting - superb!

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