2nd Test

Pakistan v Sri Lanka in the UAE, 2011-12

At Dubai, October 26-29, 2011. Pakistan won by nine wickets. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: J. K. Silva.

Before the Test series began Andy Atkinson, the ICC's pitch consultant, was of the opinion that conditions in the UAE were the best in the world for any groundsman to work with. The unbroken sunshine and lack of rain, he said, could potentially produce the ideal Test-match surface. Those who had seen the two draws Pakistan played out against South Africa the previous year, when even Jacques Kallis complained the pitches were too flat, might have scoffed. But if this Test was anything to go by, Atkinson was right: Tony Hemming, the Dubai Sports City Stadium's Australian groundsman, produced a humdinger.

At first, it deceived both captains. Dilshan thought it flat enough to bat on winning the toss; Misbah-ul-Haq thought it dry enough to drop a paceman (the unlucky Aizaz Cheema) and go in with two frontline spinners. Misbah was proved right in the end, but had it not been for outstanding - and long - opening spells from Umar Gul and Junaid Khan, he might have looked foolish.

The first session was the decisive one. As it turned out, the surface had plenty in it: bounce, considerable give off the seam, and even a little early swing. Gul found the lot, curving in to the left-handers and, as variation, holding his line, to strike three times in his first five overs. Junaid gave eager, untiring support and, with a couple of loose shots thrown in, Sri Lanka lunched in disarray at 78 for five. The debutant Kaushal Silva was at the crease, having replaced first-choice wicket-keeper Prasanna Jayawardene, who needed a hernia operation.

As no doubt prescribed in a groundsmanship manual somewhere, the pitch began to ease after the break, and Pakistan looked to be missing Cheema's pace; Gul had bowled ten on the trot and Junaid ten in two spells by lunch. Sangakkara - not for the first time seemingly batting on a different pitch from his team-mates - and the tail dragged Sri Lanka to a reasonable score. Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman took the last five wickets, but their more decisive work was still to come.

All Pakistan had to do, over the next day or so, was to cash in on a settled surface and grind out a big lead, as they had in the First Test. They did so, in particularly drab fashion, though partly because Sri Lanka's attack exerted some control, swinging both the new and old balls. If there was a highlight, it was Azhar Ali's breakthrough maiden century. Ever since his debut during the summer of the spot-fixes, it had been clear Pakistan had found a genuine Test No. 3, albeit one from an earlier age when strike-rates weren't any judge of a batsman. Azhar had become instrumental since then in staunching top-order collapses, but ten half-centuries without a hundred revealed a potentially significant problem. For a third time, like a subcontinental student studying for an exam, he worked his way by rote into the nineties. There, nerves gripped him for 30 balls; he danced out and almost messed up, smashed cuts and drives too hard straight to fielders. Misbah guided him along in soothing Punjabi, before finally a paddle sweep on 98 brought Azhar two runs. Just as well: they could easily have been given as byes, and he was leg-before off an inside edge - there was no DRS for the Test series - without addition soon after.

But the job was done and, by the time Sri Lanka tried to reduce a 164-run deficit, the pitch was flirting with the spinners, offering big turn and inconsistent bounce in return merely for patience. Ajmal and Rehman personified that quality, working through nearly 64 tight, unflashy overs with smart help from their captain to seal Pakistan's most impressive Test win since The Oval in 2010 - and their first over Sri Lanka for five and a half years.

Man of the Match: Saeed Ajmal. Close of play: First day, Pakistan 42-0 (Mohammad Hafeez 18, Taufeeq Umar 20); Second day, Pakistan 281-4 (Misbah-ul-Haq 40, Saeed Ajmal 5); Third day, Sri Lanka 88-1 (Paranavitana 42, Sangakkara 29).

© John Wisden & Co.