First Test

Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2005-06

At Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo, March 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 2006. Drawn. Toss: Pakistan.

An intriguing match, during which the pitch improved daily after being drenched on the washed-out first day, was eventually left drawn after Shoaib Malik dug in for a maiden Test century. When play finally got under way on a humid, overcast second morning, Inzamam-ul-Haq won a crucial toss, and in less than an hour Sri Lanka were in disarray, slumping to 32 for five as Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul extracted prodigious movement with the new ball. The wicket had sweated under the tarpaulin, and Gul found both nip and bounce, though Asif was the chief destroyer, swinging and seaming the ball both ways. His prize dismissals were Sangakkara and Samaraweera, both dismissed shouldering arms to devilish deliveries that cut back in the opposite direction after a series of outswingers.

But the batsmen fought back, thanks to a brilliant 69 from Dilshan, the last of the specialists. He gambled on his natural attacking instincts, clawing back the initiative along with Maharoof, who showed calm temperament and a correct technique at No. 7; they added 111 for the sixth wicket either side of lunch. The pitch, drying in the sun, gradually lost its menace as the ball softened, and Sri Lanka eventually reached 185, a modest but respectable total in the circumstances.

Maharoof then followed up his valuable runs with the finest spell of his career so far. His remodelled action - higher and straighter following long sessions with coach Tom Moody - gave him both greater pace and control. McGrath-like, he probingly forced the batsmen to play, while moving the ball enough to pose problems. Pakistan were in early trouble, but a positive 69 from Imran Farhat gave them the advantage by the close.

The pitch again helped the bowlers for the first hour of the third day, and Maharoof struck two crucial early blows, dismissing Inzamam with a wide leg-cutter and bowling Abdul Razzaq. Then Muralitharan whirled his way through the lower order. Sri Lanka claimed a lead of nine, a remarkable turnaround, and their batsmen built on that lead during a long, hot afternoon.

Tharanga, showing impressive composure, negotiated the new ball, and went on to a fine 72, consolidating the initiative and stitching together useful stands with an outof- sorts Jayasuriya and Sangakkara. Tharanga's innings was vital - but it was Sangakkara who dominated afterwards, with an epic 185 in seven and a half hours, a mature innings of exemplary shot selection and unflagging patience. Jayawardene caressed a silky 82 himself, and declared midway through the fourth afternoon, setting a mountainous 458.

Facing Muralitharan in the fourth innings has proved too much for many sides, but Pakistan secured a draw quite comfortably in the end. Shoaib Malik, neither a regular opener nor a regular blocker, avoided his normal flamboyance during a match-saving marathon. Crucially, Sangakkara - not surprisingly exhausted after almost three whole days on the field - fumbled an edge off Malinga when Malik had made only 14. Murali did snap up two wickets before the close, but the pitch was becoming ever more placid. There was some slow turn, but few balls jumped dangerously. Pakistan got through the morning without losing a wicket, and an 81-minute rain delay helped them to safety.

Man of the Match: K. C. Sangakkara.

© John Wisden & Co.