Umar Gul produced a sparkling spell of reverse swing and Pakistan's aggressive openers got off to a flying start but the pressure was still on the home side after Sri Lanka reached 606 in their first innings at Lahore. Thilan Samaraweera hit his second double hundred of the series and Tillakaratne Dilshan hit his first century before Salman Butt was run out just before close to ensure Sri Lanka retained their firm grip on the game.
If Sri Lanka thought they could sit back after their mammoth total, though, they were in for a shock. Pakistan started like an express train as Khurram Manzoor and Butt shredded the bowling. The bad deliveries were put away and the pair also created run-scoring opportunities against perfectly acceptable deliveries. With both Thilan Thushara and Dilhara Fernando bowling short of a length, Butt repeatedly cut while Manzoor punched through the off side.
Manzoor has already patented a shot of his own in his brief international career. Against deliveries a tad short of length, he hops to get on top of the bounce and clouts the ball through covers. Mahela Jayawardene was forced to bring on Ajantha Mendis as early as the sixth over. Manzoor struggled against spin in the first Test but handled Mendis and Muralitharan without much trouble today. The openers had raised 110 when Jayawardene fired in a direct hit to catch Butt short of the crease.
Another run-out proved to be the turning point of the day for Pakistan in the field after runs flowed during the first session. Samaraweera ran himself out after a terrible mix-up with Dilshan. After dabbing the ball to point, he hared down the track before hesitating and turning back but couldn't make his ground in time. Unexpectedly refreshed, Pakistan attacked with Gul, who troubled the batsmen with reverse swing.
Gul has become Pakistan's strike bowler almost by default after Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif took different routes to self-destruction. Lesser men would have crumbled under the pressure but Gul has thrived. Thankfully, for Pakistan, he has remained aware of his game and not tried to extend himself after becoming the leading bowler. He has retained most of the discipline and consistency that made him a good third seamer earlier in his career. He still struggles on occasions, though. Even today, he started with a series of short-pitched deliveries against Dilshan which were pulled to the boundary. Even then, you could understand the plan; Dilshan is a happy hooker - he was out pulling in Karachi as well - but his shot selection was precise today. Eventually, Gul realised the futility of that approach and started to harass the batsmen with reverse swing. This was when he really thrived.
Unlike in the first Test, where he found reverse but mostly slanted it in, Gul moved the ball both ways. After troubling Prasanna Jayawardene with inswinging yorkers, he induced an edge by getting the ball to hold its line outside off. A similar trick almost accounted for Dilshan but Misbah-ul-Haq dropped a sitter at first slip. Gul continued to work his magic, hitting Thilan Thushara on the helmet with a sharp bouncer before bowling him with a full delivery. He claimed his sixth wicket to dismiss Mendis for a first-ball duck with an inswinging yorker. However, Gul got little support from the other bowlers.
For the first time in the series, even the metronomic Yasir Arafat altered his lengths frequently and was punished. It was perhaps the pre-game plan of bowling bouncers to Dilshan that made him lose his radar. The errors Pakistan were hoping for never came and so they reverted to a fuller length, which resulted in Dilshan unfurling several drives. Danish Kaneria continued to frustrate with his frequent four-balls while Mohammad Talha was unable to raise his game to international level.
Until Gul found inspiration in the second session after the Samaraweera run-out, Sri Lanka cruised along. Samaraweera and Dilshan forced Younis Khan into making bowling changes and alterations to his field. Pakistan conceded 45 runs off the first seven overs of the day and they were always playing catch up after that.
With Dilshan finding the boundaries with his pulls and drives, Samaraweera continued to accumulate steadily. He started the day with a flick through midwicket off Arafat before pulling and cutting Talha without ever looking hurried. However, it was against Kaneria that he produced his shot of the day, moving down the track to play a skilful inside-out off drive with the turn. He ended the morning session with two on-driven boundaries off Kaneria and reached the double hundred in the fourth over after lunch. It looked as if the pair would bat Pakistan out of the game but the hosts fought back through Gul and their openers to stay in the contest.