Resilient Sri Lanka overcome Test layoff

Suranga Lakmal celebrates the wicket of Khurram Manzoor AFP

Four absorbing days gave way to a placid fifth, and though Sri Lanka had hoped for victory after their fourth-day advances, they might reflect on this Test with considerable satisfaction. As has been the theme of the tour so far - aside from two ODIs where Pakistan ran rampant - the sides appeared well matched, taking two days each and sharing the fifth. But given only three wickets fell on the last two days, the pitch has outshone them both.

Sri Lanka will be most encouraged by the young batsmen's batting on the third and fourth day, but they should be similarly pleased at having yielded no ground to Pakistan, after having been dormant in this format for so long. Pakistan arrived in the series with a slight edge, but the Dubai match will be approached on an even keel. Sri Lanka's batsmen were wasteful on the first afternoon, and their inexperienced pace bowlers might have progressed further had they not endured months of inaction.

But if those are the only visible detriments from Sri Lanka's cancellations and postponements, they can perhaps claim to have navigated their challenge well. In so many ways, it had also been the perfect pitch to ease Sri Lanka back into top-level cricket. Moth-eaten batting techniques were challenged by sound bowling on this surface, but there was rarely anything unplayable. Through the course of the match, Sri Lanka's batsmen visibly altered their approach to the extent that their progress on the fourth and fifth day was leisurely on the modern Test-match scale.

If Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal had had a light workload in the approach to the series, they can say they've had a proper Test-match workout now. Both bowled over 40 overs each and only rarely gave in to waywardness. Rangana Herath had had almost no cricket of any sort in the past month, but unsurprisingly for those who have followed his career, he managed impeccable lines and lengths.

Perhaps the most disappointing outcome of the match for fans was Herath and Saeed Ajmal's failure to make an impact in it. When the two best spin bowlers in the world play in Asia, a shootout on the fourth and fifth days would almost certainly have made the match more compelling. Perhaps aware of Sri Lanka's shortcomings with and against seam bowling however, perhaps the groundsmen had aimed for a greentop in Pakistan's virtual home venue. There was zip off the surface early on on all three days, but not nearly as much as the hue of the track suggested.

"In the first three days of the Test the pitch was quite helpful for the fast bowlers," Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews said. "Whenever the quicks bowled on the first three days something happened. It's not a usual Abu Dhabi wicket. Usually it gets slower and starts to really take turn from the spinners on days three and four. This time we saw that they couldn't get any turn."

Ajmal has never bowled more than 17 overs in the second innings and finished wicketless, and though his overall figures against Sri Lanka are laudable, the batsmen will not be uneasy at the prospect of facing him in Dubai. Against spin bowling of his kind, a lack of fear might be an inoculation, but perhaps these mental edges are only worth so much against a team like Pakistan, who are capable of defying sense of any sort, from any team, at any place. Sri Lanka might arrive in the next Emirate and find nothing in this match really mattered.

If there is a quibble with Sri Lanka on the final day, it is a minor one. Mathews and Prasanna Jayawardene could have sought quick runs after the first few overs, as a bigger lead might have allowed Sri Lanka to attack for longer in the following sessions. As Mathews suggested after play however, Sri Lanka could have conceivably lost the match even from the position they were in on the last morning, and some conservatism was warranted.

"First of all we had to make sure that we don't get into a losing position. We had to get to a strong position to bowl them out. The wicket wasn't doing that much so we knew we needed some time to get them out as well. But we thought if we batted a few overs and get to the 300 mark, it wouldn't be easy for them to get to that target. But we actually saw that the wicket played extremely well."

A happy, performing captain is also a boon to any side, and by that marker, Sri Lanka could hardly be better-placed. Mathews, by his own admission in 2012, had had trouble converting his fifties into innings of considerable heft, but no lapses in concentration ailed him in Abu Dhabi. He finished unbeaten on 157, a little spent, but satisfied, just like his team.