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At Abu Dhabi, October 18-22, 2011. Drawn. Toss: Pakistan. Test debut: A. N. P. R. Fernando.
No side proves both the lie and the truth of the old cricket maxim - that catches win matches - better than Pakistan. On many occasions the drops have not mattered; yet on many they have also been the only thing that mattered. In Abu Dhabi they mattered a lot, as they undid three days of Pakistani superiority constructed with the deliberation of empire-builders. That was thrown away on the fourth day with the carelessness of ageing monarchs.
Sri Lanka had begun their second innings late the previous afternoon, 314 runs behind; they lost Paranavitana first ball, and defeat loomed. But on that fourth morning Mohammad Hafeez spilled three chances, allowing Sangakkara and Thirimanne to reduce the deficit by 153. The usually dependable Hafeez dropped Thirimanne at first slip twice in successive balls off Junaid Khan (he was fielding there only because of a finger injury to Taufeeq Umar). As lunch approached, Hafeez - now in the gully - dropped Thirimanne again, this time off Saeed Ajmal. And three overs later, Hafeez the bowler saw Younis Khan miss a difficult slip chance off Sangakkara. Younis had earlier grasped an edge from Sangakkara - off Junaid - only for the TV replays to prove inconclusive.
Much later in the day the substitute Wahab Riaz spilled the easiest chance of all, dropping a mistimed pull from Prasanna Jayawardene at short midwicket. For a cheery, surprisingly large Friday crowd of nearly 10,000 (mostly Pakistanis) it was the last sniff of triumph on a day off: Sri Lanka were five down and still nearly 60 behind. Jayawardene, 11 at the time, went on to 120, and his eventual partnership of 201 with Sangakkara stretched deep into the fifth day.
Sangakkara took similar advantage of the charity, leading his side to the draw. He is no stranger to gifts from Pakistan: this was his sixth Test hundred against them. It was his eighth Test double-century in all, one more than Wally Hammond; only Don Bradman (12) and Brian Lara (nine) lay ahead. This was an immense effort, nearly 11 hours long, most of which were spent in concentrated defence. This being Sangakkara, though, there was room for the occasional cover-drive on one knee or cut through point. In all, he hit 18 fours from 431 balls.
His double-hundred, while unusually restrained, was still easier on the eye than Taufeeq Umar's first, a near 12-hour piece that ground Sri Lanka into the dust. There was no memorable detail. For vast, boundary-free portions, it was scratchy and ponderous, never imposing. He faced 496 balls, and hit 17 fours and a six. But throughout, Taufeeq emitted the quality every side wants from its Test opener: trustworthiness. His double, the first by a Pakistan opening batsman since Aamir Sohail's 205 against England at Old Trafford in 1992, was among the longest innings any Pakistani had played, and quite likely the longest in such heat.
Taufeeq's marathon had, in turn, built on a riveting first day, when Pakistan's bowling had thrust into Sri Lanka with such gusto. Junaid Khan was the headliner - young, left- armed, yorker-happy - announcing himself with a typically Pakistani burst of three wickets in five balls. But his five-for would not have happened had Aizaz Cheema not come up with an exemplary post-lunch spell which realigned the attack after a low-impact opening. At 32, Cheema was living a second life, having sweated around the domestic circuit for a decade, and he lit the fire for an entire session with a sharp, hard-working stint in which he dismissed Sangakkara and worked over Mahela Jayawardene. And it helped that Pakistan were catching well at the time.
Man of the Match: K. C. Sangakkara. Close of play: First day, Pakistan 27-0 (Mohammad Hafeez 17, Taufeeq Umar 8); Second day, Pakistan 259-1 (Taufeeq Umar 109, Azhar Ali 60); Third day, Sri Lanka 47-1 (Thirimanne 20, Sangakkara 27); Fourth day, Sri Lanka 298-5 (Sangakkara 161, H. A. P. W. Jayawardene 25).