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At Kandy, April 3, 4, 5, 2006. Pakistan won by eight wickets. Toss: Pakistan. Test debut: Iftikhar Anjum.
This was a classic Kandy contest, played under uncertain skies, full of on-field drama and off-field distractions. Apart from the sideshow of Sanath Jayasuriya's short-lived Test retirement, which dominated the lead-up to the match, there was a spat between Bob Woolmer and Sri Lanka's head groundsman, Anuruddha Polonowita, who accused Pakistan's coach of "interfering with pitch preparation" when he inserted a thin metal spike into the side of it to test the amount of moisture underneath. Although an official complaint was made, the referee Alan Hurst brushed the issue aside. But the surface did attract widespread debate as wickets tumbled fast and the match hurtled towards a three-day finish.
Jayawardene lost his ninth consecutive toss - including the Bangladesh tour - and Sri Lanka were put in: after a wet week in the hills, the pitch offered some extravagant early movement. Once again, Mohammad Asif was in the thick of the action, claiming the first three wickets during a long new-ball spell. But although there was a lot of lateral movement, the bounce was consistent, and batting was far from impossible. The in-form Sangakkara opted for aggression this time, and made a scintillating 79 from 98 balls. While he peppered the boundary, Samaraweera bedded down for 65 in four and a half hours. Bandara added a career-best 43 as Sri Lanka ended the first day with 267 for eight, a decent effort in the conditions.
The match seesawed during a dramatic second day. Sri Lanka's tail was mopped up swiftly by Asif, who finished with a Test-best six for 44, then Pakistan's openers started confidently, capitalising on some wayward new-ball bowling to add 57. But the dismissal of Mohammad Yousuf triggered a collapse. Muralitharan, spinning the ball sharply and enjoying the pitch's extra bite, claimed five for 39 as Pakistan lost their last eight wickets for 49.
Sri Lanka thus started the second innings firmly in the driving seat, 109 ahead and with the advantage of bowling last fuelling local confidence. But during a frenetic evening session, in the face of more fine new-ball bowling from Asif, they selfdestructed amid a mixture of fine deliveries and panic-stricken strokes. By the end of a day on which 20 wickets fell, Sri Lanka were 73 for eight.
Next morning, they were all out to the very first ball of the day - Jayasuriya could not bat after badly dislocating his thumb holding a catch at gully - leaving a potentially tricky target of 183. The momentum, though, had shifted emphatically Pakistan's way, and they pounced on their opportunity. Sri Lanka, handicapped by a virus which limited Maharoof, their best seamer in the series, needed to make rapid inroads. When the new ball failed to work, everything rested on Murali's shoulders. But it was not to be his day, or Sri Lanka's. A series of marginal lbw appeals were turned down, and Younis Khan, after three low scores in the series, took control with a glorious unbeaten 73.
Afterwards Woolmer said that he felt the injury to Jayasuriya was the "hidden turningpoint of the match", because of the disruption it caused to the second innings. It would have been a sad way for Sri Lanka's leading scorer to end his Test career: happily, a new selection panel persuaded him to change his mind.
Man of the Match: Mohammad Asif.
Man of the Series: Mohammad Asif.