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July 12, 2009
Sri Lanka have never won a home series against Pakistan, but they took huge strides towards rectifying that statistic with an utterly dominant performance with ball and bat on the first day at the P Sara Oval. Pakistan were coming off an abject batting display in Galle, but they sunk even lower here, being bundled out for an embarrassing 90 after winning the toss. Sri Lanka's batsmen, led by captain Kumar Sangakkara, then gave them a batting lesson, easing to 164 for 3, already 74 in front.
The pitch at the P Sara Oval offered some assistance for the bowlers, with the ball doing a bit in the air and off the seam on the first morning, but by no means was batting as difficult as the Pakistan batsmen made it out to be. Sri Lanka's bowlers, though, made the most of the conditions: Nuwan Kulasekara, Thilan Thushara and Angelo Mathews pitched it in the corridor, got movement in the air and off the pitch, and that combination was far too lethal for Pakistan's diffident top order. Kulasekara was the pick of the lot, wrecking the top order and finishing with well-deserved figures of 4 for 21, while the rest offered excellent support.
Kulasekara made up for his lack of pace with control and movement, shaping the ball both ways and giving the batsmen few scoring opportunities. He started by setting up Khurram Manzoor with a couple that moved in, before slipping in one which held its line and took a thin edge on the way to Tillakaratne Dilshan, the wicketkeeper. Pakistan's 38th opening combination in 136 innings had been separated after only 14 deliveries.
Worse was to follow as the experienced middle-order trio of Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf and Misbah-ul-Haq followed in quick succession, with two of them failing to score. The two Ys both fell to shots which were avoidable - Younis chopped it on to his stumps when trying to cut one from Thushara that was too full for the stroke, while Yousuf, after getting two fours in his first three balls, drove Kulasekara lazily to point. Misbah was kept on nought for ten deliveries, before Kulasekara nailed him with a superb delivery which nipped back and took the inside edge. In only 35 minutes of play, Pakistan had slumped to 19 for 4.
Ironically, the batsman who survived this opening onslaught was a debutant, opening the innings for the first time in first-class cricket. Fawad Alam came into the team for Salman Butt, and quite surprisingly, walked out to bat first up after Younis won the toss. His pronounced shuffle ultimately cost him his wicket, but there were still positives for him from his debut innings - he played straight, and he left deliveries well outside off. He played only 19 deliveries in the first 11 overs of the innings, but he was patient, and finally got his first four in Tests with a superb back-foot punch off Mathews. That was as good as it got, unfortunately - noticing Fawad's big shuffle, Mathews cleverly nipped one back into the left-hander, and trapped him plumb in front.
The 32-run partnership between Fawad and Shoaib Malik was the longest of the innings, and once Fawad left, there was little resistance from anyone except Malik, who played with a poise that was sadly not emulated by the others. He struck the ball crisply down the ground when the bowlers pitched it up, and was excellent with his judgment of deliveries outside off stump. Abdur Rauf offered him company for more than nine overs but didn't get a run in 34 balls, while the rest didn't even bother to spend time at the crease. After the seamers had done the early damage, Ajantha Mendis hastened the end with wickets off successive balls as Pakistan's innings folded in 36 overs.
They spent the rest of the day toiling in the field, ending with only three wickets to show for their efforts as Sangakkara gave them a lesson in batsmanship. He was fluent right from the start, clipping Mohammad Aamer for a couple of delightful fours through mid-on. He was equally decisive against the spin of Saeed Ajmal, twice cutting gloriously when offered the width. He became more circumspect towards close of play, but still latched on to scoring opportunities, ending the day with a glorious pull in the last over of the day from Gul, and finishing just nine short of Pakistan's first-innings total.
To their credit, Pakistan didn't lose the plot in the field, taking three wickets and creating more opportunities. Malinda Warnapura fell to a rough lbw decision, Tharanga Paranavitana got an under edge after looking solid for his 26, while an out-of-sorts Mahela Jayawardene was trapped by a superb delivery which spun and bounced.
Pakistan's fast bowlers ran in tirelessly, but the one who looked most likely to take wickets was Ajmal, the offspinner. On a dry pitch where the odd ball was already showing signs of misbehaving, Ajmal had most of the Sri Lankan batsmen in a spot of bother. He spun a couple past Sangakkara's bat, had Jayawardene miscuing more than once, and had a close lbw appeal turned down against Thilan Samaraweera. Unfortunately for Pakistan, they gave away so much ground in the first three hours of play that it'll require a Herculean effort for them to stay in this match, and the series.
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