Aaamer and Younis put Pakistan in sight of win
A fiery mid-afternoon spell from Mohammad Aamer and stable stock bowling from Younis Khan (yes, Younis Khan) rattled Sri Lanka's second innings, setting themselves 168 to win the Galle Test, in which pace bowlers had taken 23 of the 32 wickets to fall.
History is on Sri Lanka's side (no team has scored more than 6 runs in the fourth innings to win a Galle Test and, if achieved, 168 would be the third-highest total in fourth innings here), but the nature of the pitch and the contest is on Pakistan's. During the early stages of the hour-and-a-half Pakistan batted, a record-making win seemed inevitable, but two quick wickets late in the day meant the fourth, and most likely final, day won't be purely academic.
While Aamer has been the revelation of this match, Younis' bowling proved to be the wild card yet again - after he had broken two vital partnerships in the first innings. Pakistan started the first two sessions on a high - Umar Gul taking a wicket in the first over of the day and Aamer taking three post-lunch - but were thwarted for some time by two partnerships, both ended by Younis.
Aamer's spell was the highlight, with swing both ways at good pace, and featuring the big wickets of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jaywardene. His third victim was Tharanga Paranavitana, the first-innings half-centurion, who fell for 49 this time.
The action started late - after a 30-minute rain delay - but with immediate returns for Pakistan. Malinda Warnapura had a poor effort again, poking at the second delivery of the day, without moving his feet.
Nightwatchman Rangana Herath, though, proceeded to frustrate them almost till lunch, playing and missing regularly as is the nightwatchman's wont. It didn't help that Gul lost his rhythm fairly early, bowling four no-balls in a three-over spell. Paranavitana cashed in on that blip, and punished fully every poor delivery. Those three overs went for 22, and Sri Lanka were on their way.
Younis stemmed the flow of runs, through Abdur Rauf and himself. Both were unlucky that they didn't get Herath in the next nine overs. A plumb lbw off Rauf was missed by the umpire, and Younis kept beating him outside the off stump.
With two overs to go for lunch, Younis went for the pads as opposed to the outside edge, and ended the frustrating 68-run stand. Sri Lanka went in to lunch with the score effectively on 20 for 2. Paranavitana, who had been kept off strike for most of the last hour, moved to 42 in only 50 deliveries.
Post lunch, though, Aamer made the ball sing - and it wasn't music to the batsmen's ears. In the fourth over after the interval, Paranavitana got one that moved away from him and took the edge. Jayawardene, for the second time, got a good delivery, in Aamer's next over. The ball pitched in front of stumps, and moved away sharply, kissing the hanging bat on the way. In his next over, Sangakkara edged another swinging delivery, and 86 for 2 had become 101 for 5, a lead of just 51 runs.
Thilan Samaraweera counterattacked, so did Tillakaratne Dilshan. A flurry of boundaries, mostly drives down the ground, eased the slip cordon, and brought a mid-off in. In no time the two added 37 runs, but the captain returned to put the lid on. He didn't get as much movement as in the first spell, but went for only two in his two overs. Then he changed ends, and in his second over of the new spell got Dilshan. It was not the best of shots, though, chasing a wide and full delivery and guiding it to second slip.
For good measure Saeed Ajmal, who had Dilshan dropped off his bowling earlier, came back and got Samaraweera with a doosra. The eight-wicket partnership between Angelo Mathews and Nuwan Kulasekara had added by 35, but a slash outside off just after tea ended Mathews' 27. A quick 20-run partnership between Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara carried the target past 150, but Ajmal made sure it didn't go too far.
Salman Butt and Khurram Manzoor were conspicuously more watchful than they were in the first innings. Against the new and moving ball, they tried to play as few shots as possible, and kept Sri Lanka at a distance, also adding 36 in that period. At the end of the 11th over, an out-of-shape ball was changed, and the new ball got the breakthrough right away, with Manzoor edging Ajantha Mendis outside off. Younis the batsman failed where Younis the bowler succeeded, and got beaten by a sharp inswinger by Mathews.
From 39 for 2, though, Butt and Mohammad Yousuf played out the nervous period till stumps. Butt, especially, wasn't bogged down, and a late-cut from Yousuf in the last over before bad light stopped play brought the target inside 100.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo