Honours even on engrossing day
Pakistan had a day of typical Pakistani cricket. Two of their debutants got them off to a great start, but sloppy fielding and a failure to keep a lid on the scoring meant they hadn't run away with the game. The Sri Lankan batsmen, although never entirely comfortable in the middle, kept counterattacking, getting quick runs, making sure they got themselves a fighting total on a pitch that offered movement to bowlers of both variety.
If Pakistan were slightly ahead at the end of the innings, the last half hour, when Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara took a wicket each, made sure the match was as balanced as it was when it started.
Like 17-year-olds should, Mohammad Aamer sprung suddenly on Sri Lanka, taking two wickets in his first two overs. Like hardened domestic sloggers should, the 30-year-old Abdur Rauf came back to do the repair work, taking out beneficiaries of early dropped chances - Tharanga Paranavitana and Mahela Jayawardene. Even before he surprised Sri Lanka by breaking two threatening partnerships, Younis Khan had read the pitch well, played three fast bowlers, and chosen to field first.
Aamer vindicated the decision right away, following his first-over success on Twenty20 international debut with the wicket of Malinda Warnapura in his first over in Tests. Right from the first over Aamer got the ball to move both ways, bowling regularly in the mid-130s.
Warnapura hadn't looked comfortable, lofting Aamer unconvincingly, barely over mid-on. The next ball was shorter, moving in sharply, cramping him, and taking the bottom edge onto the stumps. If it was the inward movement that got Warnapura, the away movement should have got Paranavitana in his next over. The batsman was on 1 then. That didn't deter Aamer from getting new Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara to edge through to third slip in the next over.
Between those two events Paranavitana got another life, ballooning Umar Gul to regulation short leg, but Khurram Manzoor was placed deeper. In Aamer's next over Kamran Akmal dropped a sitter from Jayawardene. The two looked like they would punish Pakistan bad. Their partnership moved swiftly, Paranavitana attacking off the front foot, and getting a couple of edges through the slip cordon. Jayawardene, though not always the elegant self, looked threatening.
Paranavitana was particularly severe. When he hit back-to-back boundaries in Aamer's fifth over, cutting one through gully and then whipping a half volley past midwicket, he had crossed his previous best of 21, with five fours. Longer spells from fast bowlers were not possible in hot and humid conditions, and Younis had to rotate his bowlers, even bowl himself.
Paranavitana got to his half-century with another big over, taking 11 off Rauf, and reached the landmark in just 67 deliveries. Rauf, though, had another twist up his cocked wrist, getting the ball to hold its line beautifully and getting an edge from a set Jayawardene, nine minutes from lunch.
Rauf's first spell had promised such events. He bowled with an upright seam, getting movement away from the batsmen, and also good bounce. He came back, and along with the third debutant, Saeed Ajmal, created pressure. Then came an effort ball, moving away from Paranavitana sharply, and getting big on him.
Younis came back for a second spell and bowled a beauty Rauf would have been proud of, to get an edge from Thilan Samaraweera. Tillakaratne Dilshan and another debutant, Angelo Mathews, known better for their limited-overs cricket, went on another counterattack. In the 5.4 overs leading up to tea the two added 34, but the first ball after claimed Dilshan. He looked to force Aamer through gully, and spooned a catch.
At 194 for 6, with Gul reversing the ball, Sri Lanka seemed in a precarious state. But the day was not meant for slowing down, and Kulasekara followed the scheme of things. Both the batsmen used their feet to the spin of Ajmal, and kept scoring at a brisk pace. Mathews, who has forced his way into the side with eight first-class centuries in the last 11 months, seemed to be justifying the move of sacrificing the specialist wicketkeeper to accommodate him. He looked comfortable against both pace and spin, seemed to be reading Ajmal's doosra, and Kulasekara fed off him.
Against the run of play, after the two had added 47 for the seventh wicket, Mathews was undone by a Gul bouncer that didn't quite come on. But more stiff resistance was in the offing. Kulasekara and Herath added 30 runs for the eighth wicket, a partnership during which Herath survived two difficult chances, with mid-off running back but failing to holding on. Younis came back to get a wicket in his first over again, taking Kulasekara for 38, whereupon Ajmal cleaned up the last two.
Kulasekara carried that confidence, and bowled Salman Butt with the second ball of the innings. Butt premeditated a leave, but the ball was too close to the stumps, and the inwards shape did the rest. During a shaky half hour that followed, Younis and Khurram Manzoor played and missed, ran with uncertainty, and it all culminated in Thushara getting Manzoor with 3.1 overs to go.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo