'It's fairly even, but we are slightly ahead' - Ford
Graham Ford, the Sri Lanka coach, has said that the Pallekele Test is evenly poised and the home team will need to "work hard" on the fifth day. Pakistan finished the day 188 runs ahead with two wickets remaining.
"It's fairly even," Ford said. "We are slightly ahead on points at this stage but there is a lot of cricket to be played tomorrow.
"First, we have to get them out and that's going to be our No. 1 priority. Our players have a lot of respect for the game and for the quality of the opposition, so they know that they have to work hard tomorrow; nobody is starting to think that the series win is guaranteed. Test cricket is about the hard work and the real challenge, and hopefully our boys will enjoy that challenge tomorrow."
Sri Lanka, who won the first Test in Galle and drew the second at the SSC, are looking for their first Test series win in nine attempts. In Pallekele, where the weather was expected to be a factor, the second day was lost due to rain. However, the pitch, which allowed plenty of seam movement and made batting difficult, has made sure that all results remain possible on the fifth day.
"It's swayed back and forth quite a bit, which is what everybody wants to see. So, from that point of view, it's been good. The first morning, it [the pitch] certainly had quite a lot in it for the seamers. Even yesterday morning there was a lot in it for the seamers; fortunately we had two batsmen who got in and dug in deep and did a fantastic job neutralising what was going on out there."
In the first innings, batsmen from both teams struggled against the moving ball. However, the Pakistan batsmen scored comfortably in patches on the fourth day and Ford expected that the pitch, which has eased out, should help Sri Lanka's chances.
"Pakistan has got three quality seamers who caused some problems for us in the first innings. The surface, as it is now, makes it easier to face them. Certainly Pakistan found batting a lot easier a second time round, hopefully it will be easier for us second time round as well."
Pakistan started the day at 27 for 1, 84 runs behind Sri Lanka, and Mohammad Hafeez and Azhar Ali scored freely to reduce the deficit. Sri Lanka were fortunate to get Hafeez's wicket just before lunch, but Ali had looked solid. In the second session, there was a century partnership between Ali and Asad Shafiq that threatened to take the game away from the hosts.
"We would have loved to have got into them this morning and get more wickets down by lunch. At tea-time we were quite concerned but you have to give credit to the way they played. They played extremely well and our seamers found it a bit tougher on that surface in the second innings."
In the final session, Sri Lanka managed to claw back after taking four wickets for 24 runs. Ford said that the wickets fell in part due to the lower-order batsmen being on strike.
"The lower order [has] less skilful players and the likelihood of them establishing a partnership is less likely. I don't think it was the conditions, [though] maybe the cloud may have come on a bit in the evening, which might have helped in the swing and movement off the wicket, and also the new ball being available at the time."