The Sri Lankan cricket watching public are a fickle bunch. For the previous two test matches they have stayed well away from the cricket, but today, with their side continuing to dominate this test match, they descended on mass. Patiently standing throughout the day, they pounded the boundary hoardings and screamed with delight as Sri Lanka scored an imposing 449 for five off 153 overs.
Sanath Jayasuriya (188) and Marvan Attapattu (199*) carried on where they had left off on the previous night, compiling a record breaking 335 run partnership for the first wicket. They doubled the previous Sri Lankan first wicket record of 159, which was set by Ravi Ratnayake and Sidath Wettimuny. The partnership was also the fifth highest opening stand in the history of test match cricket.
Speaking afterwards Sanath Jayasuriya was clearly delighted to be finally back in the runs after a barren period since taking over as captain: "Its really good for us because we have lost the first two games of the series and everyone has been looking for the big scores and to do well for the country. I personally got a lot of confidence from getting a big score today. My confidence was a bit low and I needed a big score."
Unfortunately the performance of the openers was not replicated by the middle order, neither of whom were able to compile a significant score. As the evening drew long, with the team dearly in need of quick runs to ensure as early a declaration as possible, Attapattu became becalmed and the runs dried up.
Russel Arnold, who had been forced to wait the best part of eight hours with his pads on, threatened his first major contribution of the series with a 24 run cameo that included one sumptuous cover drive off Akram, but was eventually caught behind slashing at a wide delivery from Abdur Razzaq.
Aravinda De Silva (0) was warmly welcomed by the crowd, who probably sensed the importance of this innings to him, but departed soon after as he clipped the offspin of Arshad Khan straight to mid-wicket. Mahela Jayawardene (2) lasted only six balls before he was bowled by Arshad Khan.
Arjuna Ranatunga (6) scratched around for 41 deliveries for his 6 runs and survived numerous appeals as he obstinately walked across his stumps. However he too failed and was caught at short fine leg to become Arshad's third victim.
Whilst the batting of Sanath and Marvan was at times sublime, the Pakistan team will be extremely disappointed by their performance in the field. Having dropped two catches yesterday evening they the proceeded to drop another four in the morning.
In the space of 4 overs, Arshad Khan dropped two caught and bowled chances. The first off a leading edge from Sanath Jayasuriya may have involved a 25 yard sprint and a full length dive but it should have been caught. The second was a harder as Marvan Attapattu used his feet and smashed the ball straight back to the bowler.
In addition Imran Nazir dropped a reflex chance at bat pad off Attapattu and Saeed Anwaar dived in vain at mid-off whilst trying to collect a rasping drive from Jayasuriya.
Nevertheless the Sri Lankan openers batted superbly and towards the end it looked as if Pakistan would never separate them. In the morning they had to contend with the reverse swing of Waqar and Wasim. A challenge that they saw off without great alarm as the great pair failed to bowl a consistent line.
They then feasted on the spin of Arshad Khan and particularly Mustaq Ahmed. The 30 year old legspinner does not bowl the ball with the same fizz and zip of old and his days are clearly marked. Eventually Mustaq sought refuge by coming around the wicket and bowling into the rough.
The ploy failed as Marvan Attapattu immediately used his feet to counter the negative line: Swinging him for six over mid-wicket to take him to 96 and then coming inside out to lofted him straight over mid-off for his hundred in the 30th over of the day.
After lunch the pair batted with less flamboyance than they had in the morning as Pakistan decided to push the field back and wait patiently for a breakthrough. Refusing to take the new ball until the 112th over the spinners toiled away more in hope than belief.
When the new ball was eventually taken it brought immediate results. Waqar Younis promptly surprised Jayasuriya with a ball that rose alarmingly and the ball crashed into his tender fingers. Clearly in pain he bravely soldiered on but was dismissed in the next over: caught by Younis Khan at second slip off Abdul Razzaq.
The destiny of this match now lies in the spinning fingers of Mutiah Muralitharan and Kumara Dharmasena. At the end of the days Murali made a quick pitch inspection. The look of delight in his face said it all: this wicket is made for Mutiah Muralitharan.