March 7, 2002

Sangakkara leads the Lankan charge

Sri Lanka in impregnable position
Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardene and Russel Arnold blunted the much-vaunted Pakistan attack with clinical efficiency, along the way teaching Pakistan a thing or two about batting in Test match cricket. As a result of their endeavours, at stumps on the second day of this second Asian Test Championship final, Sri Lanka were sitting pretty, at 447 for five - their lead already a huge 213 runs.

Sangakkara strode into the record books, becoming the highest individual run-getter ever between Pakistan and Sri Lanka and only the sixth wicket-keeper batsman to score a double ton. He had another couple of landmarks (the highest score by a keeper, 232, and highest at Gaddafi Stadium, 235) within his reach. But after nearly two days vigil in the field with the gloves and willow, Sangakkara played a tired-looking shot to give Abdur Razzaq his second wicket on a day in which only four wickets fell in three sessions, three of them with the lights on near the end.

Two quick wickets in successive overs before the close gave Pakistan some hope of restricting the avalanche of runs on the third day, but in terms of their prospects of making a comeback in the match it was perhaps a case of too little, too late.

Sri Lanka worked their way to this impregnable position with their leading batsmen demonstrating that recklessness was not synonymous with enterprise. That was the first of the lessons, others being that the rotation of strike should not be sacrificed on the altar of spectacular strokemaking; that partnerships are the key to building up the total and pressure on the opposition simultaneously; and that any bowling attack, regardless of how potent it is, can be mastered with application.

The wicket had eased off a bit, but it was the will to stay there that was the difference between the Sri Lankan and Pakistani batsmen. Three partnerships, for the second, third and fourth wicket (respectively worth 203, 173 and 71), have put Pakistan in the plight they are in. And Kumar Sangakkara, elegant, aggressive and unrelenting, was the cornerstone on which they were built. He partnered his skipper for a magnificent stand of 203, which placed the initiative firmly in Sri Lanka's favour. Once Jayasuriya was gone 12 runs short of what would have been his 10th Test hundred, Sangakkara kept going on and on, now with the classy Mahela Jaywardene for another massive 173, and yet another 71 with Russel Arnold.

Sangakkara, having already outscored his skipper and well past a chanceless 100 (his fourth in Test cricket which consumed 142 deliveries, and had 14 lovely hits to the fence), occasionally lapsed in concentration. But the Pakistani bowling was by then too ragged to take advantage, and unlucky as well with Waqar putting down a blinder off Shoaib Malik after Sangakkara had hit the off-spinner for six over mid-wicket. He also survived a couple of confident leg-before appeals off Sami, one of them as close as a whisker. But he escaped, and more importantly for him and Sri Lanka made the most of the reprieve, to stroke his way to a double hundred, his highest in Test cricket. His 200 came off 272 balls in 394 minutes, with 27 fours and three sixes. While he was not averse to occasionally lofting the ball before he made his century, it was afterwards that he really pounded the bowling with impunity.

When play resumed this morning, Pakistan needed wickets in a bunch to stay in the match. But Sangakkara and Jayasuriya started where they had left off the previous evening, powering their way past three figures in the first over. Throughout the morning they caressed the Pakistan bowling to all parts of the ground. Waqar pulled himself out of the attack, to bring on Sami from the pavilion end. Sangakara welcomed him, swinging across the line and slapping his short loosener to the deep square leg fence; next ball same delivery and the same result; on the fourth ball of the over he played the shot of the morning session with a splendid cover drive off the back foot. From the other end, Shoaib Akhtar continued bowling short and the Sri Lankans relished it.

The 150 of the innings was also the 150 partnership for the second wicket. Especially strong in the cover and deep square leg area, Sangakara kept going for his shots. Timing and placement were the essence; he reached his fourth Test hundred in the last over before lunch by scoring three boundaries of Afridi's first over. Sangakkara faced 142 balls and took 220 minutes to reach his ton, and by then his innings was studded with 14 exquisite boundaries. Sri Lanka went to lunch at 192 for one, just 42 runs short of Pakistan's first innings score of 234. Sangakara was on 100 not out while skipper Sanath Jaysuriya was going strong on 80.

Jayasuriya punched two boundaries off Shoaib Malik's first over after lunch, but he went soon after to the steady Razzaq, whose ball pitched on a good length and moved away to get the edge of Jaysuriya's (88, 159 balls, 14 fours) bat and Rashid Latif did the rest by taking a smart catch, diving in front of first slip. The partnership was worth 203 for the second wicket and laid a solid foundation for the Sri Lankan reply. In walked the Mr. Consistent of Sri Lankan cricket, Mahela Jaywardene (68 runs, 96 balls, 174 minutes, 8 fours, 1 six). He square cut his very first Razzaq delivery to the point boundary. He mostly continued in the same vein, till that one moment of indiscretion saw him flashing at Sami, only guiding the ball low down to Inzamam who held on to the ball to the muted cheer of his mates.

But there wasn't much relief for Pakistan, as by now the Lankans were racing away. Russell Arnold was aggressive from the word go, and he brought up the 400 with a drive square of the wicket off Sami. The stand prospered to 71, when Sangakkara and Arnold, bowled middle stump playing across the line to a Shoaib inshooter, fell in two successive overs.

With nightwatchman Chaminda Vaas and Hashan Tillekeratne both at nought, Pakistan need to make early inroads to stop making an already bad situation worse. The Lankans for their part still have enough batting to serve more of the same to the hosts.