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The Bulletin by Sriram Veera
February 25, 2009
In the end the pitch won. Pakistan created late excitement by knocking out five top-order wickets but they didn't have enough time to pull off the miracle. After four-and-a-half dreary days dominated by the bat, the game sprung alive in dramatic fashion on the final evening when Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria struck in rapid succession to leave Sri Lanka struggling at 120 for 5. Thilan Samaraweera and Prasanna Jayawardene, however, pulled down the shutters with some cautious batting to ensure there would not be any further drama.
The final day began with all the attention centred on whether Younis Khan would go past Brian Lara's record of 400 not out, but he couldn't. He fell after adding only seven runs to his overnight score of 306, cleaned up by Dilhara Fernando. But Kamran Akmal continued Pakistan's strong reply on the flat pitch, scoring an unbeaten 158 to give Pakistan a 121-run lead.
There was little to play for when Sri Lanka began their second innings, and they even altered the batting line-up, sending Tillakaratne Dilshan ahead of Mahela Jayawardene. But some careless cricket put them in discomfort.
Gul lifted Pakistan with an early strike, inducing an edge from Malinda Warnapura. Tharanga Paranavitana missed out for the second time in this game, run out by a direct hit from Yasir Arafat. The Pakistan seamers bowled with more purpose, and sent down several short balls. Dilshan pulled one such bouncer from Gul straight to deep square leg. Jayawardene turned Danish Kaneria lazily straight to short leg and Sangakkara was caught in front, trying to play across the line. At that stage, with Sri Lanka still trailing by one run and with 17.3 overs left in the day, Pakistan had an outside chance, but when no wicket fell for the next seven overs, the home team realised the futility of the exercise.
When the day began, the focus was on Younis, who was 31 runs short of Hanif Mohammad's 337, the highest individual score by a Pakistan batsman. He started slowly, nudging the ball around, but was surprised by the movement from Fernando. The ball landed short of a length outside off stump before cutting back in quickly to beat the defensive poke and crashed into the off stump.
As Younis walked back, he was congratulated by most of the Sri Lankan fielders. Pakistan sighed in disappointment, though Brian Lara's fans in the Caribbean would have been relieved. Younis batted for 836 minutes, the third-longest Test innings in terms of minutes behind Hanif (970) and Gary Kirsten (878).
Akmal carried on unperturbed, helping himself to an easy century on the batting paradise. Sri Lanka relaxed after Younis left and tried out an assortment of irregular bowlers like Sangakkara, Dilshan, Malinda Warnapura and Mahela Jayawardene. Akmal scored 98 runs off the irregular bowlers and reached 158 off only 184 balls before Younis finally declared on 765.
Despite the late excitement, it was a predictable and fair result on the placid pitch. Neither team finished their first innings completely and had to declare - not the perfect advertisement for Test cricket, especially since this was Pakistan's first home Test in 16 months. The attention now shifts to the second Test, starting on March 1 in Lahore.
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