Junaid inspired by Akram's brilliance
Search for "Wasim Akram" on Youtube and one of the most watched videos is of the 1992 World Cup final at the MCG, where he swung those magical deliveries to get rid of Allan Lamb and Chris Lewis in succession. Lamb was squared up by one that straightened after pitching and shaved off stump. Lewis was consumed by one that swung in visciously and took the edge to hit the top of middle. The crowd of 87,000 witnessed a work of art, and most cricket fans have watched it since, perhaps several times over.
Junaid Khan, Pakistan's newest left-arm fast bowling hope since Mohammad Amir, has watched it, and he was awestruck. Several Pakistan bowlers have perfected the art of reverse swing over the decades - Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Waqar Younis, and Wasim, to name the best. Junaid is far from that league at the moment, but his incisive spell on a flat, fourth-day pitch at the SSC was encouraging for Pakistan.
After his incisive post-tea spell, a soft-spoken Junaid revealed his inspiration. "I watched the Youtube video of Wasim bhai bowling round the wicket with the older ball in the 1992 World Cup final," Junaid said. "He had also passed on some tips to me."
Bowlers from both sides have toiled without luck in this Test. Sri Lanka's seamers struggled to get movement in the air and off the pitch. Their spinners rarely got the ball to turn and bounce. On the fourth day, Pakistan's seamers managed to get more out of the pitch, but wickets were still hard to come by. Their best hope was the old ball.
When the ball was 69-overs old, and Sri Lanka 235 for 1 with the centurions Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan well set, Misbah-ul-Haq tossed it to Junaid. He attacked from round the stumps after three balls, and by the end of the over, he had a wicket. The ball angled in and hit Dilshan on the back pad as he went forward to defend.
Two overs later, Junaid got Mahela Jayawardene, with all of 2697 Test runs at this venue at an average of 79. The angle from round the stumps tested him. Padding up to a fast bowler invariably invites trouble and Jayawardene did not survive. He may have been unlucky with the height, but Junaid's pace and reverse swing had created doubt in Jayawardene's mind. He walked back with his first duck at the SSC.
The angle and movement should have done Thilan Samaraweera in as well, but the batsman escaped when one that struck him in line with the stumps. Junaid had trapped him on the crease, playing down the wrong line. In his six-over spell with the old ball, Junaid had taken two wickets for 13 runs. Samaraweera's record at the SSC is as intimidating as Jayawardene's, and he too walked back for a duck soon after, lbw to Saeed Ajmal.
Junaid recalled a previous spell against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi, where he recorded his best figures of 5 for 38, in only his second Test. Junaid said he gets a kick out of bowling with the old ball.
"In the UAE I managed to get wickets with the new ball as well," Junaid said. "Some catches were dropped. But most Pakistan bowlers seem to bowl better with the old ball. Today, the ball was reversing."
When asked about bowling on pitches that offer little help to fast bowlers, Junaid said it all came down to hard work, and luck. "On Asian wickets you have to work a bit harder. It depends a lot on your luck, and the pitch too," he said. "Sometimes if you bowl well, you don't get wickets. If you are not bowling well, you still get wickets."
The teams had to deal with rain interruptions over the last three days and Junaid said it had upset his rhythm a bit. With two innings yet to be completed, and the rain likely to continue, a draw looms. Though Pakistan fought back post tea, the best they can do on the final day is make Sri Lanka face the possibility of a follow-on. Junaid's spell has given them hope.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo