Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st Test, Galle, 5th day August 10, 2014

Pakistan undone by conservative approach

The fifth day began with a draw looking imminent, but Pakistan's batsmen went into a shell, allowing the spinners to get on top of them and allowing Sri Lanka to force a win

Before the start of the fifth day, the contest was even and the signs pointed to a draw, but Pakistan's batting is as unpredictable as Galle's weather. Neither was supposed to behave the way they did. There was a 90% chance of rain but barely a drop fell - not until Angelo Mathews struck the winning hit, anyway. Pakistan were supposed to bat out two sessions with their six specialist batsmen and ensure safety, but what transpired wasn't so straightforward. Pakistan handed the hosts the match with their conservative approach and their subsequent dramatic slide.

The day started with calm weather and a gentle ocean lapping the Galle Stadium; in hindsight these were signs that something was about to give. Pakistan began the day 78 behind with nine wickets in hand. It wasn't a position from which they looked like losing the game, but they opened the door for Sri Lanka by switching to defensive mode.

The damage was largely self-inflicted. Ahmed Shehzad played out 62 dot balls in his 74-ball 16, Azhar Ali played out 127 dot balls out of 151, and Younis Khan kept blocking Herath before the left-arm spinner eventually dislodged him. Pakistan nibbled slowly at the deficit, and after erasing it built their lead in a drip, all the while losing wickets.

Panic set in when Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq were out in the space of three balls, leaving Pakistan effectively 29 for 6. Sarfraz Ahmed alone showed some attacking intent, and even that came too late. Sri Lanka were left chasing a mere 99. It had taken only two sessions of poor cricket for Pakistan to go from a secure position to teetering on the brink of defeat. They fought hard from there, but they were defending too soft a target.

Only rain and bad light threatened to halt Sri Lanka's march. From around a quarter past five, the light began to fade and Shehzad, standing at point, waved his arms, gesturing to the umpires that he wasn't able to see the ball, but they weren't going to fall for it.

Pakistan never meant to win, perhaps, and were only looking for a draw. Since winning by an innings here in 2000, they had lost both Tests they played in Galle, most recently in 2012 by the hefty margin of 209 runs. Misbah, before arriving in Sri Lanka, had already admitted that Galle was Sri Lanka's "hunting" venue. This observation, perhaps, foreshadowed Pakistan's approach to the Test match. It seemed they were setting out to draw it when they scored 451 runs over six sessions, but it also seemed they were succeeding in that effort; what happened on the fifth day was hard to explain.

During the post-match conference, Misbah didn't offer a reason for the loss, and praised Sri Lanka instead, calling them the better team. When asked why there was a need for a defensive approach when Pakistan's batsmen could have negotiated the situation while playing their natural game, he said the over-caution wasn't pre-planned.

"I think there was no strategy," Misbah said. "Our plan was to play normal cricket and whichever delivery we get we will go for runs.

"I think we got under pressure the way Sri Lankan bowlers bowled and kept us under pressure according to their field. We didn't get balls to hit. I think on the last day the match situation also gets you under pressure and you make mistakes. Look, such things do happen, you sometimes are trapped in situations and we made mistakes being under pressure."

Pakistan had stressed even before the tour began that they hadn't been playing too much Test cricket in recent months. This, they maintained, had broken their momentum since their thrilling win in the Sharjah Test in January. This indeed is the second recent instance of Pakistan losing impetus thanks to a long gap between two Test series. In 2012, they lost another series to Sri Lanka following a six-month gap after beating England 3-0 in the UAE. This time, in contrast to Pakistan's long-form dormancy, Sri Lanka were well-prepared, having played Tests against England and South Africa.

While rustiness is a genuine issue, one thing cannot be disputed. Pakistan could definitely have saved the Test. Their batsmen certainly have the talent, but the approach they adopted here wasn't in keeping with their natural style. It is time the likes of Shehzad and Azhar are given the freedom to break out of their shell. They are better off being themselves.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • aziz on August 11, 2014, 22:26 GMT

    Misbah forgot that this was a test match where he can place six leg side fielders and let his bowlers bowl bouncers on the leg side.

  • Dummy4 on August 11, 2014, 15:41 GMT

    Why wasn't Fawad Alam played ?

  • Steve on August 11, 2014, 13:19 GMT

    Totally agree with author's assessment. Pak drove themselves into corner with too defensive approach. SL bowlers knew they could try variations to buy wkts without any worry of punishment from Pak batsmen. Hopefully, Pak will play their natural aggressive game that serves them so well most of the time.

  • IFTIKHAR on August 11, 2014, 8:37 GMT

    The better side won and no excuses! According to PCB this is the best of Pakistani talent so we have to move on and see how they progress next.No use changing the side again and again we were beaten by a side that is evidently more talented than us.In Angelo Mathews Sri Lanka have found a shrwed cricketing brain who has learned from his seniors and is always well prepared for any particular batsman or bowler.That is called a captain's homework.He is also a very brave player not afraid to attack in a crisis.Enough said! Well done Sri Lanka! Herath is the nemeisis of Pakistan.I rate him better than Ajmal.

  • Adnan on August 11, 2014, 7:33 GMT

    I don't know why and how each new coach start following the Misbah's approach. Waqar Younis, when he was the captain for a short while, used to have do or die approach. Misbah is overly conservative and he is not going to lift WC2015 for Pakistan anyway. Dropping Sanga is insane and they have got the punishment for that insane crime. A. Rehman is not impressing anymore for quite a lot of tests now and I think its time to induct Raza Hasan before S. Ajmal hangs his boots.

  • Khawaja on August 11, 2014, 5:49 GMT

    If I was the Captain defending 99 runs in 20 overs of the final evening I would attack with 2 slips, 3rd man and rest of field same as ODI. I am pretty sure i could have defended it. I don't know what was the motive behind blocking and creating dots. To me Coach & Captain to be blamed for this avoidable loss. If Sarfraz can play the game as required then why cant Shahzad & Azhar? Also, Pakistan is in dire need of a batting or bowling all rounder. I don't support 4 bowler tactic.

  • Dummy4 on August 11, 2014, 5:47 GMT

    very defence captaincy by a very defence captain misbah i think its time to change the captain fr pk team because he is a defence capton & some very defencive players like khurram,azhar ali & asad shafiq we need players like afridi & Umer akmal to play test cricket for pakistan right now.

  • Dummy4 on August 11, 2014, 4:24 GMT

    Well Sri Lanka deserve the victory. A bit similar to when Pakistan chased 302 runs in the last seesion to win in UAE. Who says test cricket is boring. Good value for spectators.

  • David on August 11, 2014, 3:51 GMT

    History is littered with defeats for teams which failed to score quickly enough at the start of day 5 and left a paltry total for the opposition to knock off.

    I think of England's win in Karachi and their defeat at Adelaide in 2005-6.

    Misbah has presided over a number of successful slow innings in recent years - particularly in the 3-0 win over England, but at the end of the day they were just a couple of boundaries short of saving this match, and they snatched defeat from the jaws of a draw.

    Every batting line-up needs a blend of slow and quick scorers, and Umar Akmal might have saved this match even if he had got himself for a risky 20 from 30 balls. The perseverance with Kurram Manzoor is foolish: Azhar Ali ends up facing the new ball anyway, and Pakistan would do better to promote him to open with Younis at 3 and Umar Akmal at 4.

  • Dummy4 on August 11, 2014, 3:39 GMT

    Cricket is as much a game in minds as it is with skills. You gave the opposition a sniff that you are trying to defend rather than attack and they will come even more harder than usual. Misbah, Cook and Dhoni are all poor captains understanding these things. Misbah do not have to look too far, just a glance at 3rd Ind-Eng test will tell him that going with 6 batsmen after winning the previous one, Dhoni is trying to "defend" his lead, and he would have done well looking at the result and thinking how he need to go in 5th day. It is all about showing intent. When you won in Sharjah, chasing about 300 in 50-60 odd overs, it was all the intent shown for winning which make SL panic. There too Angelo played -ve cricket and paid the price. But he learnt his lesson, Can Misbah do that, I am hopeful because Dhoni will never learn it (in tests). Also, it is sad that best tactician of our time is calling time on his career. Good luck to both teams. Play fair, play hard.