Shoaib Malik's immense but painstakingly composed maiden Test hundred steered Pakistan to an unlikely but spirited draw on the final day of the first Test against Sri Lanka. Malik was given invaluable support by Faisal Iqbal in a 115-run partnership, with whom he defied Sri Lanka for much of the morning and afternoon. The draw thus ended Sri Lankan hopes of a first Test victory against Pakistan at home for 20 years, confirmed Pakistan's recently acquired resolve and displayed Malik's versatility.
Malik's was truly a marathon effort, spanning over eight hours. Until the fun-filled dash at the end, his innings was one-paced throughout and his concentrated restraint nothing short of remarkable. Where he once hit South Africa's bowlers for five sixes in two overs of a one-day international, he didn't hit his first one here till his 354th delivery (and then did it again two balls later.)
In a radical departure from his thrusting ODI one-down self, he rarely attacked yet hardly looked in trouble or unruffled. He was tested early in the day by the ever-sly Muttiah Muralitharan, who having lulled him into comfort with looping, one-paced off-breaks, decided to unveil his doosras soon after. In Muralitharan's fifth over of the morning, two doosras beat him, one catching the edge and the other bringing an appeal for a stumping.
At that point, with the chattering choir that is Sri Lanka's close fielders-cordon and most deliveries bringing ooohs and aaahs (though none were as saucily pronounced as Kumar Sangakkara's), tension surfaced. An 80-minute rain break immediately after helped eased some of it, but post-lunch Malik really dug himself in. His third fifty against Sri Lanka came five overs after the lunch break with a characteristic checked flick to fine leg for two.
As Muralitharan finally gave way - until then he was seemingly intent on bowling unchanged forever - to be replaced by the lollipops of Tillakaratne Dilshan, Malik caressed his first ball through extra cover to bring up a century partnership with Iqbal. But as befits such vast knocks, he wasn't without fortune and a fair amount of it. Kumar Sangakkara will remember with some fondness his century on the fourth day but is equally less likely to forget dropping Malik when he was on 14.
Umpire Steve Davis presented him considerable benefit in turning down a strong leg-before shout when the new ball arrived midway through the afternoon, bringing with it another session of Farvez Maharoof's inquisitive seam bowling. And on 94, twenty minutes after tea, he was incorrectly given not out by Rudi Koertzen when Sangakkara made up for his lapse, off Sanath Jayasuriya. But a few overs later, as he cut his 320th ball for four to bring up his century, few would have begrudged him his luck. The celebration was as unflustered as most of his innings; for a maiden hundred and for a makeshift Test opener struggling to prove his worth, it was surprisingly low-key.
For half his pains today, he was given feisty support from Iqbal. From the moment he drove Maharoof in the first over of the day, on one knee through cover, he looked at ease. As he had done in his maiden Test century against India, he used his feet well, especially against Muralitharan, dancing down to on-drive him for four early on. He used his head even better, restraining the urge to attack throughout his knock, although the feet did twinkle again, this time to Bandara halfway through the afternoon, when slapping a fifth boundary to bring up a crucial half-century.
It was only when the new ball was taken, and expertly used by Maharoof, that Iqbal and Malik were really troubled. At a healthy pace, Maharoof found permutations of line, length, bounce and movement that had seemed, until then, impossible. As with Muralitharan in the morning though, support at the other end was absent. Iqbal, having played and missed twice in Lasith Malinga's first over of the new ball, fell in the second. Maharoof moved one in and trapped Iqbal in front. He troubled Inzamam-ul-Haq too but as tea approached, the captain was driving Muralitharan and company off front and back foot and on his way.
Inzamam's dismissal to the indefatigable Muralitharan hinted at an uneasy last hour, but by then Sri Lanka had lost their verve, much as the pitch had done in the last two days. When Mahela Jayawardene finally decided to bring to rest the wonderfully innovative manipulations he had tirelessly worked to force a win, with seven overs remaining, Pakistan had somehow reprised their efforts from Mohali a year ago. Thus came to end an intriguing contest that Sri Lanka were eventually unlucky not to win, yet fortunate after their start, not to lose.
Faisal Iqbal lbw Maharoof 60 (186 for 3)
Trapped in front of off-stump to one that nipped back
Inzamam-ul-Haq c Dilshan b Muralitharan 48 (267 for 4)
Prodded forward to an off-break, smartly snapped up by silly mid-off
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo.