Tour review

Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2013-14

Qamar Ahmed

Twenty20 internationals (2): Pakistan 1, Sri Lanka 1
One-day internationals (5): Pakistan 3, Sri Lanka 2
Test matches (3): Pakistan 1, Sri Lanka 1

Angleo Mathews and Misbah-ul-Haq after sharing the series 1-1, Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 5th day, January 20, 2014
Angleo Mathews and Misbah-ul-Haq after sharing the Test series 1-1 © AFP
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Angelo Mathews was a whisker away from leading Sri Lanka to their most significant overseas series victory for 14 years - but, at the crunch, they snapped. Of the eight leading Test nations, Sri Lanka had been perhaps the most nervous travellers: excluding formalities in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, they had not won abroad since a 2-1 victory in Pakistan in 1999-2000, when Muttiah Muralitharan was at the peak of his powers. And had Sri Lanka not been so passive on the last three days of this series, they would surely have become only the second visiting team to win in the UAE, after Steve Waugh's all-conquering Australians in 2002-03 (though the first of those three Tests was played in Colombo).

That prospect seemed fanciful when Sri Lanka - who had arranged no redball warm-up match - collapsed on the opening day of the First Test at Abu Dhabi. But Mathews stirred his side into action by batting throughout the fourth to score his second Test century, long enough to save the game. Sri Lanka's unfancied seam attack then put in a superb stint at Dubai which, along with Mahela Jayawardene's elusive 32nd Test century, catapulted them to a surprise nine-wicket win.

All that was required to knock the stuffing out of Pakistan were a few emphatic strokes on the fourth evening at Sharjah. But Sri Lanka's incessant blocks and leaves invited Pakistan to go for broke, and Mathews lapsed into the worst sort of negative tactics adopted by captains who are protecting a target in the last session of a match. If anything, his spread leg-side fields - in both innings - helped Pakistan pull off a sensational chase of 302 in 57.3 overs. The recalled Azhar Ali played the innings of his life and, as the light grew painfully thin, Misbah-ul-Haq hit the winning run with nine balls to spare. "This was my best victory," he said. It was the fastest 300-plus runchase in Test history, surpassing the 1984 West Indians at Lord's, and provided a triumphant farewell for coach Dav Whatmore, who decided to quit for family reasons after two years in charge. It was also the end of a two-year term for Sri Lanka coach Graham Ford, who headed for Surrey.

A 1-1 draw meant Pakistan remained unbeaten in all five Test series in the UAE since being forced to relocate following the terrorist attack on buses carrying the Sri Lankan team and match officials in Lahore in 2009. But there was no doubt where they would rather have been. The day before the opening Twenty20 international - and in the wake of Jonathan Trott's withdrawal from England's Ashes tour with a stress-related illness - Misbah reiterated his concerns about Pakistan's nomadic existence. "Being away from our families is taking its toll," he said. "You come back from a tour and hardly get time to settle, then you are off again." There were complaints too, after the Test defeat in Dubai, that Misbah was not getting the turning pitches he wanted, although wet weather around the Gulf was certainly a factor. The surfaces were sometimes so bland that Rangana Herath and Saeed Ajmal, two experienced spinners who had both enjoyed success in the UAE, were made to look ordinary.

Both boards were feeling the financial pinch, so it was no surprise that seven limited-overs matches preceded the Tests. Some of the best players were missing: Herath and Jayawardene sat out for personal reasons, while injury had caught up with Pakistan's towering spearhead Mohammad Irfan. Yet the cricket turned out to be some of the most compelling these countries had played for years. Three centuries by Mohammad Hafeez - who went on to lose his Test place - all led to Pakistan wins.

This was the third full series between these two old allies since October 2011, but the first to feature DRS. Pakistan never got their heads around it, failing in 20 reviews out of 21. During the Tests and the fifth one-day international, the ICC trialled their Officiating Replay System, designed to smooth out the more cumbersome aspects of DRS. If implemented, it would give third umpires the power to control the TV replays available to them, rather than wait for the broadcasters.

Match reports for

1st T20I: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DICS), Dec 11, 2013
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2nd T20I: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DICS), Dec 13, 2013
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1st ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Sharjah, Dec 18, 2013
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2nd ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DICS), Dec 20, 2013
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3rd ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Sharjah, Dec 22, 2013
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4th ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi, Dec 25, 2013
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5th ODI: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi, Dec 27, 2013
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1st Test: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi, Dec 31, 2013 - Jan 4, 2014
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2nd Test: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Dubai (DICS), Jan 8-12, 2014
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3rd Test: Pakistan v Sri Lanka at Sharjah, Jan 16-20, 2014
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© John Wisden & Co.