Sri Lanka ease into position of strength
Solid contributions from the Sri Lankan top order ensured that the home side ended day three of a hitherto tight Test firmly in control. Contrasting fifties from Upul Tharanga, Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene enabled Sri Lanka to end on 242 for 2, a lead of 251, and a guarantee that the smart work of the bowlers in the morning - they took six wickets for 52 runs as Pakistan collapsed to 176 - was not wasted.
Tharanga had built a solid base in the afternoon with a vital, stodgy 72. He had begun brightly, with some punchy pushes through cover, to tide him till lunch. He mellowed down later, having lost Sanath Jayasuriya, as Pakistan did well to rein in Sri Lanka in the afternoon session. Until his dismissal, upping the tempo soon after tea, he had nudged the game away from the visitors; after it Jayawardene and Sangakkara, with an undefeated 115-run partnership, hurried it further away as Pakistan tired.
Jayawardene was the spark and he played an innings without equal in this match thus far. From the moment he arrived, he attacked, beginning with a cut and sweep off a luckless Danish Kaneria. The cut quickly became his trademark; two more arrived, each as elegant as the other, before he played the shot of the day, and possibly, the match. To Kaneria, from round the wicket, he danced down and easily lofted straight over long-on for six. He almost matched the elegance with an on-driven four a few overs later off Asif, before completing a 28th Test fifty off 72 balls. He continued at a pace that escaped every other batsman, pulling and cutting freely till late in the day. Elegant and essential, it wasn't entirely without blemish - he was dropped on 54 by Kamran Akmal off Kaneria - but his intervention really took the game away from Pakistan.
Accompanying both batsmen was an unusually grinding 77 from Sangakkara, an innings explained perhaps by indifferent form in his last 10 Tests, which yielded an average just over 35 and a hundred and a fifty (against the weaker attacks of West Indies and Bangladesh). He struggled when he came in at the fall of Jayasuriya's wicket soon after lunch with the score on 54. Kaneria troubled him, not exclusively, and he relied mostly on typically left-handed nudges and glances for runs. Fluency eluded him for long stretches; when he tried to force the pace after tea he almost miscued Shoaib Malik to long-off, then cut streakily over point and was lucky that a top-edged hook off Razzaq found the boundary and not a fielder. But two boundaries late in the day, one cut and one punched through cover, suggested his smoothness was returning.
These three had built on a morning's work done by the three Ms - Maharoof, Muralitharan and Malinga. Pakistan, starting on 124 for 4 with Inzamam-ul-Haq and Razzaq at the crease with a strong lower order, could harbour thoughts of a lead. Nine balls later, such thoughts were dissipating as Maharoof dismissed Inzamam and Sri Lanka never looked back.
Unlike Pakistan yesterday, Sri Lanka's bowlers worked with a pitch that was only grudgingly helpful. The occasional delivery alarmed, as when Maharoof nipped one back violently to dismiss Razzaq, but mostly theirs was a triumph for discipline and effervescence. Maharoof stood out, bowling in areas that batsmen don't particularly like. Outside off-stump, Inzamam was beaten by one that bounced more than he expected. And while Razzaq's dismissal was another addition to the `Dismissals Pageant' for seam bowlers in this match, he pestered everyone around off-stump, not moving the ball as much but with no less effectiveness.
Muralitharan played a willing accomplice, teasing batsmen with flight and using his variations prudently. Shahid Afridi, who had played a quiet little knock until then, was done by a lack of flight and Umar Gul went against informed opinion, deciding to pad away Muralitharan; twice in 15 balls was pushing it and the third time he tried brought no luck from the umpire. The freakish manner of Akmal's dismissal hinted early that this might not be Pakistan's day. By its end, with Sangakkara and Jayawardene in a stirring union, it proved prophetic.
Inzamam-ul-Haq c Sangakkara b Maharoof 31 (127 for 5)
Attempting a cut to one that bounced more
Abdul Razzaq b Maharoof 8 (138 for 6)
Superb ball on uncertain length, nipped back a long way to hit middle stump
Shahid Afridi b Muralitharan 14 (154 for 7)
Beaten, cutting, by a ball that spins back sharply to knock off-stump
Umar Gul lbw Muralitharan 2 (160 for 8)
Offering no shot one time too many
Mohammad Asif b Malinga 0 (172 for 9)
Missed a fast, straight yorker
Kamran Akmal c Tharanga b Muralitharan 27 (172 for 9)
Freakish, as full-blooded sweep lodges into short leg's armpit
Jayasuriya c Kamran Akmal b Mohammad Asif 13 (53 for 1)
Gets a thin edge while hooking
Upul Tharanga c Farhat b Kaneria 72 (127-2)
Danced down and miscued a hoick to mid-on
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo.