Sri Lankans reign supreme
Younis Khan in his innings of 46
Photo Arif Ali/CricInfo
LAHORE- Before this match, six times on the trot, Pakistan had posted a score of 400-plus in the first innings. They won each of those six Tests. On the first day of the Asian Test Championship final, their batting caved in for a mere 234, and with Sri Lanka at 94 for one by close, from here on Pakistan would have to do something extraordinary to extend their victorious run and retain their hold on the continental title.
To atone for their batting capitulation, Waqar Younis got Pakistan off to a sensational start, his first delivery at a brisk pace was heading right into Marvan Atapattu's rib cage, and he hooked it straight into Shoaib Akhtar's hands at fine leg. A wicket first ball was a dream start after a shocking batting display. But that was all the consolation Waqar was going to get on a day which ended with Lankans having an almost vice-like grip on the match. They would've to play very poorly to lose, that is unless Pakistan pulls off a miracle. They are quite capable of that, provided they play to their potential.
After that initial, lifting success, Sanath Jayasuriya, in his typically aggressive mode, tore into the Pakistan bowling, especially going after Shoaib Akhtar, to swing the balance back in Sri Lanka's favour. Akhtar was taken off after only a two over-spell as he was clobbered for 24, but the change in bowling didn't bring any reprieve as now Kumar Sangakkara was matching his skipper stroke for stroke. They mostly dealt in boundaries, sparing none in Pakistan's four-pronged pace attack. At stumps Jayasuriya was unbeaten at 47 (67 deliveries, 7 fours), with Sangakkara at 39 (60 balls, 6 fours.
On a hard and lively wicket that had something to offer to both batsmen and bowlers, with Jayasuriya winning the toss and inserting Pakistan, the hosts' batting was singularly devoid of application. Brittle as ever, occupation of the crease was so obviously not a priority with the Pakistani batsmen. Most of them got off to a start but then failed to progress, and mostly because of poor shot selection against tight bowling it seemed as if they were gifting their wickets away. All credit too to the Sri Lankan bowlers who concentrated on line and length, never easing the pressure on the batsmen.
The start was disastrous enough, as both the openers were gone for 18, within the space of three deliveries. Taufeeq Umar essayed a flick off his pads, only to guide the ball into Thilan Samaraweera's hands at short leg. Then, for some inexplicable reason, Shahid Afridi charged down for a run where there was none; sent back by Younis Khan, he failed to regain his ground only to trudge back to the pavilion.
With Inzamam-ul-Haq out on the crease with Younis Khan, by far the most productive, and also most entertaining partnership of the innings ensued. The two added 86 at almost run a ball, 88 deliveries to be precise. They had mastered the bowling, with some of Inzamam's shots suggesting that he was almost back to his vintage form. But then both of them visibly lost concentration and threw it away, in a mad four-ball spell of impetuosity that spelt doom for them, and eventually for Pakistan.
Their timing for this event was absolutely awry. With just two overs to go for lunch, and Pakistan happily placed at 90 for two, Younis, throwing caution to the winds, went after the ever-dangerous Muralitharan. He off-drove him to the boundary with great panache, clouted him for a six to mid-wicket next ball, and then, to display a delicate touch, late cut him to the third man fence. 14 runs of three deliveries, and Pakistan had raced past 100 in style, with Younis just a stroke from what would have been a well-made personal 50. Here Younis went for the paddle sweep behind his legs, only ending up guiding the ball onto the stumps. Muralitharan had his man.
Next over, the last prior to lunch, Inzamam went for that casual flash outside the off-stump, and the resulting edge was pouched with glee by Jayasuriya, whose lunch became all the more palatable by Younis and Inzamam's untimely generousity.
After the lunch break, almost immediately there was further disaster. Yousuf Youhana elegantly drove Muralithran to the extra cover boundary, but then somehow contrived to flash at a widish Buddhika Fernando delivery. Six for 147, and Pakistan was perilously placed. They were not to recover from that as a bogged down Shoaib Malik, drafted in ahead of the senior off-spinning pro Saqlain Mushtaq, rather indifferently edged one from Fernando, Sangakkara obliging with the rest.
It seemed all over bar the shouting. That they could achieve some semblance of respectability was because of the rearguard action at which Rashid Latif is becoming increasingly adept, with skipper Waqar Younis, alternately a combination of aggression and caution, being a perfect foil. Both to some extent retrieved the situation at the fag end of the post-lunch session and for a while post tea, in the process taking Pakistan to 216 with a stand of 40 for the eighth wicket.
It was some improvement from a hopeless 176 for 7, but just like a couple of occasions earlier, the partnership didn't flourish. Muralitharan, that wily customer, tossed one up to Waqar, and he couldn't resist the temptation of going after it. Beaten in flight, Waqar had the mortification to hear the rattle of timber.
Waqar's dismissal for 19 (42 deliveries, four fours) was literally curtains for Pakistan. Muralitharan by now was in his element, and Waqar's departure had visibly unnerved Latif, who tried to farm the bowling but then fell trying the same paddle sweep that had seen Younis Khan perish. Latif only edged it into Sangakkara's gloves.
Shoaib Akhtar played an entertaining little knock, clubbing Buddhika Fernando for a couple of fours to milk 11 runs off an over, but it was too good to last, and Muralitharan trapped him plumb in front to get his fourth wicket and bring the Pakistan innings to an end. And, to add insult to injury, to dispose off Pakistan Jayasuriya didn't even have to press all his resources into service; only four of his bowlers were enough to rout Pakistan.