Younis ton drives Pakistan
Pakistan's new captain Younis Khan hit a fine century and combined well with his predecessor Shoaib Malik to thwart a stiff challenge from the Sri Lankan spinners. On a pitch that got increasingly slower, Sri Lanka fought hard but Younis stood firm to lead Pakistan some way towards avoiding the follow-on.
Younis' innings said a lot about his character and batsmanship. You could describe it as 'typical' but that would be too flippant. His captaincy had been castigated for his first-day field settings, which allowed Sri Lanka to run away to a mammoth total. Today, Younis replied with his bat.
He defended a lot but didn't poke around. He slog-swept and reverse-swept but never looked desperate or too cheeky, as he often does in one-day cricket. He had occasional problems with Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis but didn't get bogged down. The loose balls were punished and Younis created run-scoring opportunities regularly with planned, calculated shots.
As ever, he was ready for a challenge. When Muttiah Muralitharan plugged the backward short-leg region to prevent him from flicking, Younis unfurled the reverse-sweep. When Ajantha Mendis flummoxed him at times with his variations, Youni never let the bowler gain the ascendancy. In fact, it was against Mendis that he produced the shot of his stay - clearing his front leg, Younis allowed himself a free swing of the bat and the ball rocketed past the surprised bowler. When Dilhara Fernando pinned him with reverse swing when he was in the nineties, Younis remained patient in getting to the landmark. When Chaminda Vaas bent the new ball back in, Younis looked for singles to square leg. In a nutshell, it was a typical innings. We couldn't escape that word, could we?
Younis' effort came after Sri Lanka had tightened the noose in the first session with some disciplined and crafty bowling. Muralitharan twirled his offbreaks and doosras at different speeds, creating angles by going around the stumps and suffocating the batsmen. Mendis cut it both ways and slipped in quite a few off-breaks and googlies and nearly accounted for Younis with a close lbw shout. He also should have got Malik on 15 but Prasanna Jayawardene, who was otherwise really good, could not hold on to a tough chance behind the stumps. Younis, however, looked quite confident even in the morning. There were three elegant cover-drives off Vaas but the shot of the morning was a whiplash square-drive against Fernando.
In the second session, an enthralling contest between bat and ball ensued - a double tango of sorts with Muralitharan and Mendis up against Younis and Malik. Both pairs came off looking good at the end. Considering the pitch was slow, the spinners did really well to consistently probe the batsmen even though they went wicketless. The batsmen too, looked the part, countering the high-quality and imaginative bowling really well.
There was but one moment of concern for Younis, when he was on 92. He swung a delivery from Mendis in the air but despite an acrobatic effort at midwicket, Tillakaratne Dilshan couldn't hold on.
Younis had started the attack after lunch with a slog-sweep and a deft flick against Muralitharan. The bowler immediately brought in a backward short leg and Younis went for a reverse-sweep and edged it down leg. Mendis too upped his game, blending his carrom balls skillfully with his off-breaks. The runs came in a trickle, but Younis once again broke free with a pull off a long hop from Mendis.
Meanwhile, Malik was growing in confidence. He stuck to the back foot initially, using the slow track and taking care not to press his front foot across to play the spinners. He crossed 25 with a lovely inside-out cover-drive off the front foot against a doosra. The very next ball he charged Muralitharan and belted it over the bowler's head. Next ball, Younis swung an offbreak from Mendis over midwicket.
As the game wore on, the pitch got slower and the bowlers found it increasingly tough to get bite off the track. Muralitharan started concentrating on a middle-and-leg line, with a short leg and backward short leg in place, and Mendis started to crank up his pace. Malik was run out, unable to beat the direct hit from Muralitharan, and Sri Lanka tried to close in. But Misbah-ul-Haq dropped anchor, allowing Younis to go along in his merry way. Another day like this for Pakistan and they'll be able to save the game.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo