Pakistan give it away on a platter
From day one, Pakistan have been on the receiving end in this second Asian Test Championship final. At close on the third day, at 193 for five, with Shahid Afridi and Yousuf Youhana throwing their wickets away like crazy spendthrifts, Pakistan had more or less handed the trophy to Sri Lanka. With 101 out of the overall lead of 294 on the first innings to go, the deficit was still quite sizable.
In murky and overcast conditions, with floodlights blazing down since early afternoon, Muttiah Muralitharan had added another three wickets for only 39 to his first innings tally of four for 55. And with Inzamam-ul-Haq (unbeaten on 38 with just one four) the only recognised batsman left, this incomparable Sri Lankan match-winner was going for the kill.
Pakistan really gave it away on a platter. They had seemed to be taking the challenge to Sri Lanka, as Afridi and Inzamam put on 84 for the third wicket. It was as self-assured a partnership as any, and had the potential to assume threatening proportions. Afridi, given a life when he was dropped by Jayasuriya at first slip off Chaminda Vaas, was by now on 70 and playing his shots fluently and effortlessly. He had smitten Muralitharan for a six to mid-wicket, and clubbed three exquisite fours as Vaas was brought on.
At that point Pakistan had clawed their way back, but then Afridi lunged down the wicket to Muralitharan, only to be beaten comprehensively by a straight delivery, and Kumar Sangakkara had no problem in stumping him.
Yousuf Youhana, usually so sedate and dependable, inexplicably seemed in a hurry to dictate terms. He lofted Muralitharan for four over extra cover, but perished doing the same on the onside. His miscued drive was pouched by Marvan Atapattu with a palpable sigh of relief. Abdul Razzaq got a reprieve from umpire Athar Zaidi when he was plumb in front, but Muralitharan got him, this time umpire Harper adjudging in the bowler's favour when the ball was clearly turning enough to miss leg stump.
With darkness descending on the Gaddafi Statium, Pakistan's hopes of making a fist of it were fading.
Mohammad Sami had brought Sri Lanka's innings to an earlier than planned close with a hat-trick to end Pakistan's leather chase spread over nearly five long sessions. Pakistan's batsmen then failed to make amends for their woeful first innings display, with Taufeeq Umar going cheaply, bowled by Vaas through the gate. Younis Khan had looked steady when he flicked one to square leg and Thilan Samaraweera, who snapped up a smart catch diving to his right.
Earlier, inspired by the first Test hat-trick of young Sami, who had only recently achieved a similar feat against the West Indies in one-day cricket, Pakistan were able to bowl out Sri Lanka for 528. It could have been far worse, for the Sri Lankans were aiming to hand Pakistan a big defeat - something on the lines of an innings and 175 runs to avenge the defeat at Dhaka in the first version of the ATC final.
That remains to be seen, but they had already put Pakistan under considerable pressure, a situation from which the hosts can only hope to salvage a draw. Five for 447 overnight, Sri Lanka started the day in the same fashion as the second, quietly and sedately, settling down first and then carving the bowling to erase the possibility of batting a second time. Chaminda Vaas played some lovely shots, strokes which belied his night watchman's status, in his innings of 43 to take Sri Lanka past 500 in the 129th over.
Vaas then pulled Razzaq straight down the throat of Taufeeq Umar at deep square leg. Thilan Samaraweera, the new kid on the block with an out of this world Test average of 100-plus, came out, but he got out early, flicking one from Shoaib Akhtar only to see Rashid Latif take a breathtaking catch well outside his range. It was Latif's uncanny anticipation and a super dive that resulted in the catch of the match.
Sri Lanka had reached 528 for seven when Sami caught Buddhika Fernando plumb in front; the umpires brought the extended session to a close in mid over. But Sami had found his unerring line and length and the break was not to make him falter. He trapped Nuwan Zoysa first ball after lunch, and the hat-trick ball, a fast in-swinging yorker, found Muralitharan's inside edge uprooting the middle stump.
This was the third consecutive hat-trick in the ATC matches involving Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Before Sami it was Wasim Akram who had two hat-tricks in as many matches in the last ATC in 1999 against Sri Lanka. Looking for wickets in a bunch, Pakistan finally grabbed the last four for just 28 runs, but by then the damage had been done.