Footmarks on pitch crucial to SL chances, says Sangakkara
The footmarks developing on the Sharjah pitch are crucial to Sri Lanka's hopes of winning the series 2-0, Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara said. Day three saw the surface play reasonably well for the batsmen, even if it remained a challenging pitch for stroke-making, but Sri Lanka's spinners achieved success by attacking rough areas either side of the pitch.
There has been no unplayable turn or bounce from the footmarks, but on a surface on which the fast bowlers could not generate movement save with the old ball, the rough on the pavilion end of the pitch, in particular, presented hope for effecting dismissals. Pakistan trail Sri Lanka by 137 runs with four wickets remaining.
"There are a lot of rough areas on the wicket and the real challenge is to exploit that rough," Sangakkara said. "For our spinners, it's really important to have a look at where the position of the rough is, and how well they can use it to generate the unpredictable. It's just the third day, so on the fourth and fifth day, it's bound to get worse to bat on. Anyway, scoring is pretty difficult. By getting 400 in the first innings, we put ourselves in a pretty good position."
Rangana Herath pitched well outside the off stump throughout many of his spells on day three, but Sangakkara suggested this was not a stalling tactic from Sri Lanka, who lead the series 1-0. Constant plugging away at that line prompted a reverse-sweep from Ahmed Shehzad, who dragged the ball onto his off stump on 147, and had earlier also accounted for Younis Khan, who edged one down the leg side. Herath finished the day with 3 for 88 from his 31.3 overs - the best returns for his team so far.
"There was rough outside leg, to try and pitch the ball in," he said. "A lot of batsmen don't have the patience anyway when you bowl those kind of lines. It seems negative when you look at it from the outside, but the plan was quite positive - to try and get them to hit against the line, try and get one to turn from off the rough and see whether we can get something happening on that track. When you bowl around the wicket, there wasn't much purchase on it because there isn't much rough in line with the stumps."
Sri Lanka's route to victory will also be marked by damage control and self-preservation with the bat, Sangakkara said, as the onus rests on Pakistan to force the pace in the match. Pakistan had progressed at 2.28 runs an over in the first session of the day, before the scoring rate gathered momentum in the evening, but they will likely have to bat out at least two sessions on day four to establish a first-innings lead.
"If we get a couple of wickets in the morning tomorrow, especially Misbahul-Haq, then we would be able to do quite well in the Test," Sangakkara said. "They were pushing for runs today, trying to get as close as possible to our total but the two wickets at end of the day were very crucial for us.
"Pakistan will have to try and push to get a result, losing 1-0 or 2-0 is going to be the same when you have lost the series. They are going for broke and our job is to try and hold our nerve and absorb the pressure. First of all, we have to limit the damage - runs-wise - and if we do get a chance to bat again, we have to ensure we bat well."
Sangakkara said he had expected the pitch to deteriorate faster than it has by the end of day three, but found no fault in it. The cricket has been attritional throughout the series - owing to the teams' approach as much as to the surfaces - but the pitch in Sharjah has been particularly difficult to score on, without offering much for the bowlers.
"There are different types of wickets. A lot of people have different ideas of what Test cricket should be. What Test cricket should produce is a great contest, whether it's a test of patience or skills of players," he said. "When it's hard to get runs and it's hard to get purchase, to see how well the sides adapt to those situations. Those are signs of good Test players and, on this kind of pitch, maybe there wasn't anything for the fast bowlers with the new ball, but there was reverse swing. There can be a lot more turn in the next two days, so we have to wait and see how it plays.
"By the look of it on the first day, I thought that there would be lot more turn than we have seen on the first two days. Probably the first day turned a lot more, while the top was a bit softer and a heavy roller compacted it, and made it a lot better for batting."
Sri Lanka's fast bowlers have been a vital ingredient in the team's success in the series, and produced long, disciplined spells again on day three, helping limit Pakistan's scoring. Shaminda Eranga took two wickets, both achieved through reverse-swing.
"I think the bowling has been a revelation - especially Lakmal and Eranga. The discipline and the fitness they have shown to last three Tests, bowling very long spells is fantastic," Sangakkara said. "They prepared well, especially Eranga, before coming here. Also on this tour, he worked hard with the bowling coach. Chaminda Vaas has done well with them. They have done all you can ask of them as fast bowlers on this tour, and I think they are incredible for us."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here