A Test of positives for Pakistan
Moral victories are never mentioned in a scorecard. Nor can they be measured. In the second Test played at the SSC, a draw seemed a no-brainer before the final day, but Pakistan can walk away with their heads held high. Although the game ended in a draw late on the fifth day, Pakistan had plenty of positives. Junaid Khan's tenacious bowling was well supported by Abdur Rehman, something Saeed Ajmal had failed to do. Mohammad Hafeez, Taufeeq Umar and Azhar Ali struck form after the disappointments at Galle. The umpiring was fair and a marked improvement from Galle and there were no disgruntled voices on the absence of DRS.
"We can take a lot of positives from this game," Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq said. "Bit disappointed with the weather. If we had time, we could have pushed for a result."
Those "positives", apart from Junaid, included the top order. "Hafeez and Taufeeq have played a major role in our victories. They have given us good starts," Misbah said. "When the top order fires, it makes a difference."
Time was always going to be a decisive factor and a result looked improbable after the third day, thanks to the frequent rain interruptions. Pakistan were given first use of the pitch, surprisingly, in batting friendly conditions. So it was up to their batsmen to capitalise. Hafeez and Azhar scored big hundreds to rub it into the hosts but the timing of Misbah's declaration, well into the third morning, raised doubts as to whether the remaining days would be enough to take 20 wickets on a road of a pitch in hot and humid conditions. But Junaid showed it was possible to take five wickets on the SSC pitch, let alone dream of it, to raise chances of a result.
It was to Junaid's credit that he found the line and swing to trouble some of Sri Lanka's best. Inspired by Wasim Akram, Junaid worked to the plan of bowling round the wicket to the right-handers, getting it to reverse swing. He picked up four of his five wickets that way, bowling from the Tennis Court end. The absence of Umar Gul to injury gave Pakistan's seam attack a very inexperienced look, but Junaid showed enough self-belief to carry the attack on his own.
"On a flat pitch, it was a wonderful spell," Misbah said. "With the old ball he [Junaid] was excellent.
"The bowlers troubled them [Sri Lanka batsmen] by bowling in the right areas, it was reversing with the old ball and with the new ball and Junaid was hitting the seam well. The secret is to bowl wicket to wicket."
Late in the fifth afternoon, Misbah was in a quandary over whether to declare at all. Curiously, he gave Sri Lanka just one over after tea and then declared, much to the amusement of Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene. Misbah's decision was perhaps more ambitious, than brave. Misbah too had the sense of humour to laugh at his own decision.
"We just wanted to give them 37-38 overs to chase," Misbah said. "In the context of the game it looks like a joke, trying to get a side out within 37 overs. Cricket is a game of fortune. You never know, in 4-5 overs someone can take five wickets. That was just a try."
The pitch and weather may have thwarted their dreams of a series win, but the Tests were never going to be a cakewalk in the first place, considering they were up against a Sri Lanka team high on confidence after the one-dayers. However, over the course of five days, Pakistan managed to put the hosts under pressure in conditions that didn't look conducive for a result. Their batting and bowling looks in better health. The question is if Pakistan can keep their momentum going when the third Test at Pallekele begins in four days' time.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo