A match in which fortunes swung wildly finally ended in an emphatic seven-wicket win for Sri Lanka, as they sealed their first home series win against Pakistan with a convincing performance at the P Sara Oval. Pakistan were left to rue another batting collapse of monumental proportions, one in which they lost nine wickets for 35 to go from a commanding 285 for 1 to 320 all out. That left Sri Lanka with a target of just 171, which they knocked off in a mere 32 overs to ensure a three-day result.
That had seemed a remote possibility when play started this morning, and seemed even less likely when Fawad Alam and Younis Khan were motoring along during their 200-run second-wicket partnership in the morning. Pakistan had wiped off the 150-run deficit with aplomb, and were building a substantial lead of their own; the pitch was flat, offering little assistance for pace or spin, and the Sri Lankans appeared completely deflated. Sri Lanka got a very small glimmer when Younis gifted his wicket away, attempting a reverse sweep against the part-time offspin of Tharanga Paranavitana with the second new ball just two overs away, and from there it went horribly wrong for Pakistan.
Surprisingly, it was Rangana Herath who took the new ball, and equally surprisingly, he struck immediately, removing Mohammad Yousuf with his second ball. That triggered a spectacular collapse, as seven more wickets fell in the next 92 deliveries. Pakistan had recovered brilliantly from their first-innings debacle, but there was no escape route this time around.
Nuwan Kulasekara had struggled for seam and swing in the first 80 overs, but armed with the new ball in overcast conditions, he suddenly found exaggerated inswing, trapping four batsmen lbw. Misbah-ul-Haq, Kamran Akmal, Abdur Rauf and Saeed Ajmal all got their front foot too far across, though Misbah was unlucky as the ball seemed to be missing leg stump.
Herath, meanwhile, was as effective with the straighter one as he was with the one which turned. The lack of turn accounted for Yousuf, Shoaib Malik and Umar Gul, while turn and bounce ended Fawad's outstanding innings of 168, the second-highest by a Pakistan debutant. His four wickets with the new ball gave him figures of 5 for 99, his first five-for in Tests, and a series which had already seen several twists had another monumental, and decisive, one.
At lunch, though, no one could have seen the end coming, as Fawad and Younis reduced Sri Lanka's bowlers and fielders to a completely dispirited lot, adding 116 in 28 overs for the loss of just one wicket. More than the runs themselves, it was the ease with which Fawad and Younis batted that would have worried Kumar Sangakkara. Fawad, especially, showed excellent concentration, knocking the ball in the gaps, driving fluently through the covers, and cutting and pulling whenever the bowlers pitched it marginally short.
Sangakkara's tactics were perplexing - the second over of the day was bowled by Paranavitana - and when he did turn to his main bowlers, the results weren't much better. Ajantha Mendis had a shocker, either dragging the balls too short or serving half-volleys, and leaked 38 in six overs, including five fours.
As the runs piled up, so did the records: Fawad became only the fourth Pakistan batsman to score 150 on debut, while the partnership was the highest for the second wicket at this ground, and for Pakistan against Sri Lanka in Tests.
It was all going exactly as Pakistan would have wanted it to, till Sangakkara gave the second new ball to Herath. The collapse that followed seemed to completely take the fight out of Pakistan, for when they took the field to defend 170, they were flat and uninspired. Gul and Mohammad Aamer bowled on both sides of the wicket and got none of the movement that Kulasekara had managed earlier in the afternoon. The aggressive Malinda Warnapura cashed in, getting a flurry of boundaries with pulls and flicks to ensure that Sri Lanka never felt the pressure of chasing an uncomfortable target against an attack known to trigger collapses.
The opening partnership added 60 in a mere ten overs, and even when that pair was separated, with Paranavitana playing a careless sweep, Pakistan were never in the contest as Sangakkara carried on from where he had left off in the first innings. Younis brought back Gul for a late spell, hoping for some reverse swing and inspiration, but Gul managed neither. A lofted six by Sangakkara off Malik brought down the target to just 11, but he wasn't in the middle to celebrate his first series win as captain, falling off the next delivery. With Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera around, though, that hardly mattered.