Pakistan v Sri Lanka

Samiul Hasan

At Lahore, March 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Sri Lanka won by eight wickets. Toss: Sri Lanka.*

After Sri Lanka and Pakistan had swatted Bangladesh aside, this match at last promised a contest. But it proved just as one-sided as when the same teams met in the first Asian Test Championship final in March 1999. Then, Pakistan won by an innings and 175 runs; this time, it was Sri Lanka's party. The fact that the home side started the last day with hopes of a draw owed more to rain than to their own efforts.

Pakistan's problems were familiar: a fragile batting line-up (they badly missed Saeed Anwar, nursing a hand injury) and reports of a fractious dressing-room. Reckless shots undermined both their innings, whereas Sri Lanka were unified and resolute, as they showed on the fourth afternoon, when the entire team - coach and physio included - began pulling off the covers at the first sign of the sun. At least one was removed without the help or consent of the ambling Lahore groundstaff.

Put in on a hard and even pitch, the Pakistan batsmen required resolve; they offered little. Both openers perished within six overs, before Younis Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq gained control, adding 86 in as many minutes. Younis trod the thin line between courage and rashness, reeling off a cover drive for four, a six high over mid-wicket and a deft late cut to the rope from consecutive deliveries from Muralitharan, only to paddle the next ball so fine that he played on. Flashes outside the off stump from Inzamam and Yousuf Youhana left Pakistan 127 for five and, despite a few lusty blows

from Rashid Latif and Waqar Younis, they were all out an hour after tea.

In reply, Sri Lanka were as steadfast as Pakistan had been shaky. Sangakkara batted for three hours longer than his opponents' entire innings, and all but matched their total. After Atapattu's golden duck, Sangakkara's eight-hour 230, occupying only 327 balls and including 33 fours and three sixes, featured partnerships of 203 with Jayasuriya and 173 with Jayawardene. In the first 123 years of Test cricket, there had been only three double-centuries by wicket-keepers; Sangakkara's innings - full of scything shots off the back foot - was the third in just 16 months.

Mohammad Sami finally ended the Sri Lankan reply with a hat-trick - the third in three Asian Championship fixtures between these sides - that straddled lunch on the third day. But the fireworks came too late; the earlier bowling was not incisive, reigniting the debate over why Wasim Akram (taker of the two previous hat-tricks) and Saqlain Mushtaq had been excluded. Captain and selectors were rumoured to have clashed over Wasim's omission, ostensibly on fitness grounds.

Resuming 294 behind, and with nearly eight sessions remaining, Pakistan had to bat well into the fifth day to stand a chance of salvaging a draw, but by the third evening, they were already five down. Again, several batsmen were culpable: Shahid Afridi's charge down the wicket was a familiar conclusion to an unusually guarded innings, while Younis and Youhana fell to impetuous swishes to leg. Pakistani hopes brightened as bruised skies over Lahore brought persistent rain on the fourth day. Only 32 overs were bowled, and Inzamam and Shoaib Malik were still together at the close. Blue skies next morning dashed their first hope, and the dismissal of Inzamam (off what looked like a no-ball) extinguished their last. With their sentinel gone after a watchful, five-hour 99, Pakistan collapsed within 12 overs. Muralitharan finished with eight wickets, lifting his total from seven Tests in Pakistan to 49. Sri Lanka lost both openers, but their ninth consecutive Test victory was never in doubt.

Man of the Match: K. C. Sangakkara.
Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 94-1 (Jayasuriya 47, Sangakkara 39); Second day, Sri Lanka 447-5 (Vaas 0, Tillekeratne 0); Third day, Pakistan 193-5 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 38, Shoaib Malik 6); Fourth day, Pakistan 248-5 (Inzamam-ul-Haq 72, Shoaib Malik 19).

© John Wisden & Co