Pakistan fightback through dazzling Asif
Muttiah Muralitharan loves the Asgiriya stadium but at least one bowler will walk away from this ground, irrespective of the result, as infatuated by it. No sooner had Muralitharan sat down to contemplate his 51st five-wicket haul, one that had seemingly shifted a taut Test decisively away from Pakistan in the afternoon, he was contemplating coming out to bat, barely two hours later. For this he can blame Mohammad Asif who with a second five-wicket haul - 11 for the match - ensured that the daunting advantage Muralitharan had gained - a 109-run lead - had been hacked considerably. On an insanely fluctuating day, Sri Lanka crashed to 73 for 8, with Sanath Jayasuriya unlikely to bat, a lead of 182 and the match, still and again, in the balance.
Had Glenn McGrath been watching Asif today, he might have allowed himself a smile, but only after recoiling in horror first at a decent mimic. In 12 overs, he loitered around off-stump and cut and seamed through Sri Lanka. For nine overs, Kumar Sangakkara and Upul Tharanga had played and missed but also scored runs occasionally and at 22 for no loss, it was game, set, almost match. Even the loss of Tharanga, cleaned up by a superb offcutter, didn't seem to matter too much.
It was only after Sangakkara went five overs later - inside edging one that came in and not out as he expected - that the madness began. Admittedly, Asif doesn't seem an easy proposition to face, but using your bat can't be a bad idea. Thilan Samaraweera, though, probably didn't think so, offering no shot - as he had done in the first Test - in Asif's next over. As in the first innings, Asif didn't let go thereafter. Some luck, when Farveez Maharoof was adjudged lbw, brought him his first ten-wicket haul and Tillakaratne Dilshan's misjudgement, driving to the wrong length at the wrong time, brought him his second five-wicket haul of the game.
Unlike the first innings, he received support from at least one of the three other medium-pacers. Abdul Razzaq began essentially as a run-check but after sending back Mahela Jayawardene in the middle of Asif's tribute to McGrath, he became something more. Quite what is not certain, but Sri Lanka clearly sussed him as some pie-trundling clown, not a man with a Test hat-trick here. Both Nuwan Kulasekara and Malinga Bandara swung the bat and were duly dismissed in successive overs as a scarcely believable day closed. Bandara's wicket was the 20th since the morning, when Asif had swiftly brought to close Sri Lanka's first innings.
That Asif was even out there again was due mostly to Muralitharan, who began his work, inevitably, in that last over before lunch. Pakistan started the day in a frantic and unsettled manner. An umpteenth new opening pair in Imran Farhat and Kamran Akmal greeted each other just before they greeted the bowlers. The latter introduction wasn't an easy one. For some time, Farhat drove repeatedly but connected only with air and his first confident stroke came in the eighth over, when he struck Maharoof for a crunchy drive inevitably through square cover. Akmal began in a casino, playing roulette with the slips and gully as Maharoof was prodded tentatively through gully in the second over. His next over found Akmal entirely out of sync; jabbing uppishly and uncertainly through gully again, outside-edging a drive, before attempting to pull but only cracking his bat and apologetically hitting the ball straight for two.
Both, however, survived and just before the drinks break, they celebrated a fifty partnership. Sri Lanka tightened after liquid nourishment and having put together a string of maidens, Kulasekara struck. Farhat would have wished he had driven air, instead of catching the thick edge that went straight to Jayasuriya at gully, who duly, in his last Test, split the webbing on his hand. As revenge for dropping him yesterday, it was bizarre retribution for Farhat.
Then arrived the Kandy-man Muralitharan, bearing no lollipops. Two balls after coming on, he got turn, bounce and Akmal, but his best work came a little after lunch when for 11 overs, Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf pretended the Sri Lankans were Indians. A flurry of boundaries, cut late or driven, mixed freely with singles sensible, cheeky and suicidal, and gave Pakistan bluster. When Younis uncertainly edged Pakistan's eighth boundary since lunch, a quick-time fifty-partnership came up. Had Maharoof not began his previous over, the first of a new spell, with a no-ball that castled Younis, the partnership would have been less.
Muralitharan soon balanced Maharoof's transgression. Yousuf, having cut him late successfully earlier, tried again, only now with less room, less time and more spin to deal with. He didn't. It spurred Sri Lanka's fielders and Maharoof at the other end, who soon kept his front foot in check and got Younis to play a half-cut, half-push but fully poor shot to slip.
The meat of Pakistan's batting gone, Muralitharan let the ball do the talking, though Sangakkara's constant chatter meant it wasn't alone. Shielding the doosra, he persisted with the offbreak. Angles were changed, flight was tinkered and so was speed. Faisal Iqbal, no mug against spin and freshly confident, swept a four only to be deceived next time he tried it by a rare doosra. Abdul Razzaq's dismissal was tastier; fed a loopy, wide offbreak which he duly lashed through point for four, he was beaten next ball by a flatter, sharper offbreak. Inzamam's run-out just before tea heralded, spiritually at least, the end of Pakistan's innings and Danish Kaneria's scalp - Muralitharan's fifth - did it factually. He wouldn't have expected coming out to bat 25 overs later, though to be fair no one would have. It was that kind of day.
Nuwan Kulasekara b Asif 13 (271 for 9)
Inside edges one that bounces and jags back in
Lasith Malinga c Razzaq b Kaneria 9 (279 all out)
Playing across the line, leading edge scooped to point
Imran Farhat c Jayasuriya b Kulasekara 23 (57 for 1)
Thich edge as he drives loosely to ball swinging away from him
Kamran Akmal c Jayawardene b Muralitharan 33 (71 for 2)
Inside edge onto pad goes to slip as bounce and turn beats defensive push
Mohammad Yousuf b Muralitharan 17 (121 for 3)
Indeterminate shot off back foot, beaten by turn
Younis Khan c Samaraweera b Maharoof 35 (125 for 4)
Chasing one that bounces and nips away, edges to slip
Faisal Iqbal lbw Muralitharan 5 (140 for 5)
Sweeping a full-length ball that went straight on
Abdul Razzaq b Muralitharan 4 (149 for 6)
Trying to cut a quicker, flatter off-break
Inzamam-ul-Haq run-out (sub) Kapugedera (162 for 7)
Slow to respond to call and well-beaten by direct hit
Umar Gul c Sangakkara 4 (166 for 8)
Pushes uncertainly and is beaten by late away swing
Mohammad Asif run-out Malinga (166 for 9)
Beaten by throw from gully at batsman's end
Danish Kaneria c Sangakkara b Muralitharan 4 (170 all out)
Thin edge to a quicker ball outside off, taken at second attempt
Upul Tharanga b Asif 12 (22 for 1)
Squared up by one pitching on middle and leg and moving away
Kumar Sangakkara b Asif 18 (41 for 2)
Inside-edge driving one that came in onto stumps
Thilan Samaraweera b Asif 5 (46 for 3)
Misjudged line and left a ball that came in to take off-stump
Mahela Jayawardene b Razzaq 15 (56 for 4)
Inside-edge to one that jagged back sharply
Farvez Maharoof lbw Asif 1 (57 for 5)
Good length ball nips in, hit high
Tillakaratne Dilshan c Akmal b Asif 11 (65 for 6)
Driving the wrong length to a delivery that moved away
Nuwan Kulasekara c Gul b Razzaq 6 (72 for 7)
Loose drive to short mid-on
Malinga Bandara c Akmal b Razzaq 4 (73 for 8)
Gloved an attempted hook to keeper
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo