3rd Test, Sharjah

Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 2013-14

At Sharjah, January 16-20, 2014. Pakistan won by five wickets. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: M. D. K. Perera.

The first four and half days contained some of the dreariest cricket imaginable; the last session and a half was stuff from the firmament. Pakistan had to score 302 in 59 overs to preserve their unbeaten home Test series record, stretching back to 2007-08. That they managed it exposed the unnecessarily soporific cricket earlier in the match - mostly by Sri Lanka. The run-rate of 5.25 in Pakistan's second innings, ending in an astonishing victory, was the quickest of any 300-plus chase in Test history. Pakistan had famously lost to England in the gloom at Karachi in 2000-01, despite captain Moin Khan's constant appeals against the light; now, it was their turn to be grateful for some firm umpiring.

Sri Lanka took almost 102 overs to score 214 in their second innings, which finished in the extended period before lunch on the last day. Mathews, astonishingly, blamed his batsmen for being too impatient. "We didn't need to give them a sniff," he said. "I thought we should have been a bit more cautious because we'd already won the series. All we needed was to bat for another hour." It was like subcontinental cricket beamed from the early 1980s. The truth was that, after Mathews' brilliant series with the bat, it was his 99-ball crawl to 14 on the fourth evening that had given Pakistan their sniff.

Pakistan's only way to save the series was to go for it, and they benefited from the clarity. By tea, they had lost three wickets, and still required 195 from 35 overs - but their aggression had already sent Mathews on the defensive. Misbah's decision to promote Sarfraz Ahmed ahead of him worked a treat. Sarfraz showed how to counter Herath, bowling over the wicket outside leg stump, by taking guard in line with the markings for leg-side wides, and either sweeping, or lofting through the unguarded off side. Azhar Ali, recalled at No. 3 in place of Mohammad Hafeez, accumulated all around the wicket. By the time Sarfraz gloved down the leg side for 48 from 46 balls, Pakistan needed a less intimidating 116 off 22 overs. When Misbah came on strike, Mathews set all nine fielders back on the ropes; Azhar and Misbah simply milked the ones and twos. Not once did Mathews turn to the debutant off-spinner, Dilruwan Perera.

In the last half hour, Sri Lanka began resorting to delaying tactics, but the umpires did not fall for it. Eranga received lengthy treatment after colliding with Misbah, and Richard Kettleborough ordered the physio to stay away when Lakmal tumbled in the field. The light was fading badly, but the umpires refused to look at their meters. Azhar scored a stupendous 103 off 137 balls, before sprinting off to ensure no time was lost. In the next over, with nine deliveries left, Misbah tapped a single to complete one of Pakistan's most famous victories.

After winning the toss on a slow, flat pitch, and with no need or desire to force the issue, Sri Lanka had taken almost two days to score 428. Pakistan at last felt confident to play Abdur Rehman as a second spinner, with Bilawal Bhatti home with a hamstring injury. Rehman's inclusion had a beneficial effect on Saeed Ajmal who - after 16.5 more joyless overs - chipped in with the wickets of Mahela Jayawardene and Chandimal in three balls. Pakistan's close catching was shaky, and they had no luck with DRS. Then again, they used it poorly: Mathews twice escaped being lbw to Rehman on the umpire's call. While Pakistan fumed, Mathews and Perera stuck to the script, adding 112 at barely two an over.

Mathews was out in the nineties for the fourth time, and Perera caught on the hook for 95, making him only the second debutant to be out in the nineties from No. 8 or lower, after Ashton Agar at Trent Bridge the previous July. A few moments later, Mathews called time. Pakistan had a lot of catching up to do. They began steadily, as their openers built a century partnership. Ahmed Shehzad upped the tempo and reached his maiden Test hundred on the third evening - with the ball starting to reverse, Mathews resorted to a seven-two leg-side field. With the help of some quicksilver keeping from Prasanna Jayawardene, Herath was able to prey on Pakistan's impatience to pick up the series' only five-wicket haul.

Sri Lanka claimed a lead of 87, so it was a surprise just how tentative they were in building on it. Mahela Jayawardene resolved to leave everything outside off, and it was a rare six off Ajmal that took him past 11,000 Test runs. Mathews followed his lead before becoming the sixth wicket in the game for Mohammad Talha, who had replaced Rahat Ali. In the last session, Sri Lanka added just 45 in 33 overs. Prasanna Jayawardene injected some welcome direction next morning, but the run-rate had returned to a dribble by the time Rehman removed Perera and Herath in consecutive balls. Herath went on to become the first man in Test history to bag a king pair and concede 100 runs in an innings. But the statistics were soon giving way to a memorable finish.
Man of the Match: Azhar Ali. Man of the Series: A. D. Mathews.

© John Wisden & Co.