Sangakkara shines in even battle
It swung one way, then the other, then back again only to be further prodded and nudged back and forth on an intriguing first day at the Asgiriya Stadium in Kandy. Every moment one side sensed an advantage, the other seized it back and as play came to an end, it settled neither here nor there. Mohammad Asif's first five-wicket haul, backed by Danish Kaneria's wiles, was cancelled out by another stirring hand from Kumar Sangakkara and some Thilan Samaraweera stodge and meant neither side would be too ecstatic or too despondent at the close with Sri Lanka 267 for 8.
It would be cute to suggest that Asif swung the match Pakistan's way in the morning, but it wasn't so much swing he relied on as seam. Asif bowled as if on a different pitch, with a different ball to different batsmen than his medium-pace partners, Umar Gul and Rao Iftikhar Anjum. His 12-over spell, unchanged and five minutes short of two hours, was similar to that of a spinner's in its duration, perseverance and probing. The speed gun betrayed tiredness, possibly from an increased burden, but luckily for him speed guns don't measure movement and cut, the real currency of his bowling. That remained and by the time he finished, it was too late already for Upul Tharanga, Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jayawardene.
The first innings of Jayasuriya's last Test promised, with an upper-cut boundary, a pulled six and a dropped catch, all the ingredients for a gargantuan special. Asif disagreed, cleaning him up with one that nipped back subtly but sharply. Tharanga had already fallen by then and when Jayawardene, beaten thoroughly just before, was finally good enough to touch one but only to slip, Sri Lanka were 61 for 3; not in as much trouble as in Colombo, but in strife nonetheless.
The first shift in balance came with Sangakkara and compared to much of last week's century, this innings was luminescent throughout. Rao might have thought, after a maiden debut over, that Test cricket wasn't such a difficult thing but as Sangakkara took three boundaries off his next over, he understood otherwise. One more arrived in his next over, on one knee, as Sangakkara began numerically on 0 but mentally on the 185 from Colombo.
Sangakkara glided through the morning untroubled, picking on Rao and Umar Gul for his many boundaries and smartly leaving Asif alone. With the firm belief that the knee has been given to him to rest on while driving, Sangakkara scored between third man and straight relentlessly. Three overs after lunch, with his 10th boundary, he brought up a stirring 20th fifty. Two overs later, as Pakistan's medium-pacers toiled to make any impression in the afternoon sun, he hit his first boundaries on the leg side, and that too only marginally, driving an errant Gul just past mid-on.
At that stage, Sri Lanka were coasting and Thilan Samaraweera was more than just propping up. He had been lucky not to edge his first ball before lunch, even luckier that it didn't clip his off-stump but survived with typical adhesiveness. After that, he picked up the pace as both Rao and Abdul Razzaq struggled to emulate Asif. He announced his intentions with a punched boundary off the back foot and soon after, as the fifty partnership with Sangakkara was registered, Sri Lanka were scoring at four an over since the break.
Immediately after the drinks break in the afternoon, the balance tipping in favour of the hosts as Samaraweera clipped Rao through midwicket and then drove straight for four, Kaneria finally emerged and, fittingly, another twist. His results were both immediate - Sangakkara fell third ball of the over to end a valuable 81-run stand - and more embedded, as he tied up Sri Lanka's scoring over the afternoon. Tillakaratne Dilshan survived Asif's cut and, on 22, soon after tea, was suggesting pugnaciously, another counter thrust to match that in Colombo.
But in the third over after tea, Kaneria, who had been scheming away, struck with a ball that many choose to cut for four; short, wide and spinning wider, Dilshan chose to edge it to Kamran Akmal. Farveez Maharoof fell soon after to a Kaneria googly, unlucky and unsure as to whether he was leg-before or caught off his forearm. With Gul finally providing worthy support at the other end, Pakistan tightened their grip. Imran Farhat unfortunately didn't do likewise around a chance Malinga Bandara offered at gully when he hadn't scored and considering it was the second chance he had spilled off Gul - the first was Jayasuriya - a soft drink might await the lanky Pathan, courtesy the stocky Lahori.
Samaraweera was still jealously guarding one end although having brought up his 13th fifty in over three hours and from 123 balls, he was nudging, rather than yanking the balance away from Pakistan. Bandara, reprieved further in a close run-out call, was providing a comic lower-order cameo until the new ball arrived, bringing the tireless Asif and a final shift in the day's fortunes. Samaraweera was bowled in the first over and Bandara provided Asif with his first bowling landmark. That Asif and Kaneria shared the wickets won't have escaped the attentions of Maharoof and Muttiah Muralitharan.
Upul Tharanga c Younis b Asif 10 (18-1)
Edged to second slip driving a full, away-swinger
Sanath Jayasuriya b Asif 14 (27-2)
Nips in between bat and pad to hit off-stump
Mahela Jayawardene c Farhat b Asif 4 (61-3)
Edged one that angled in and straightened
Kumar Sangakkara c Iqbal b Asif 4 (142-4)
Inside edges a drive onto pad for a simple catch to silly point
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Akmal b Kaneria 22 (178-5)
Chases a big-spinning wide ball but only catches edge
Farvez Maharoof c Younis b Kaneria 7 (195-6)
Misreads a googly and prods to forward short leg
Thilan Samaraweera b Asif 65 (238-7)
Missed ambitious drive to full length ball swinging in
Malinga Bandara c Akmal b Asif 42 (256-8)
Lazy cut catches toe of bat to keeper
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo