Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Match drawn after late drama

The Bulletin by Sriram Veera

Sri Lanka 644 for 7 dec (Mahela 240, Samaraweera 231) and 144 for 5 (Sangakkara 65, Samaraweera 24*, Prasanna 7*) drew with Pakistan 765 for 6 dec (Younis 313, Akmal 158*)

In the end the pitch won. Pakistan created late excitement by knocking out five top-order wickets but they didn't have enough time to pull off the minor miracle. After four-and-a-half dreary days dominated by the bat, the game sprang alive in a dramatic fashion on the final evening when Umar Gul and Danish Kaneria struck in rapid succession to leave Sri Lanka struggling at 120 for 5. Thilan Samaraweera and Prasanna Jayawardene however, pulled the shutter down with some cautious batting to ensure there would not be any further drama.

The final day began with all the attention centered on whether Younis Khan would go past Brian Lara's record of 400 not out, but he couldn't. He fell after adding only seven runs to his overnight score of 306, cleaned up by Dilhara Fernando. But Kamran Akmal continued Pakistan's strong reply on the flattest of pitches, scoring an unbeaten 158 to give Pakistan a 121-run lead.

There was little to play for when Sri Lanka began their second innings, and they even altered the batting line-up, sending Dilshan ahead of Jayawardene. But some careless cricket put them in discomfort.

Umar Gul lifted Pakistan with an early strike, inducing an edge from Malinda Warnapura. Tharanga Paranavitana missed out for the second time in this game, run out by a direct hit from Yasir Arafat. The Pakistan seamers bowled with more purpose, and sent down several short balls. Dilshan pulled one such bouncer from Gul straight to deep square leg.. Jayawardene turned Danish Kaneria lazily straight to short leg and Sangakkara was caught in front, trying to play across the line.

Younis began the day 31 runs short of Hanif Mohammad's 337, the highest individual score by a Pakistan batsman. He started slowly, nudging around, but was surprised by the movement from Fernando. The ball landed short of a length outside off stump before cutting back in quickly to beat the defensive poke and crashed into the off stump.

As Younis walked back, he was congratulated by most of the Sri Lankan fielders. Pakistan sighed in disappointment but Brian Lara's fans in the Caribbean would have been relieved. Younis batted for 836 minutes, the third longest Test innings in terms of minutes behind Hanif (970) and Gary Kirsten (878).

Akmal carried on unperturbed, helping himself to an easy century on the batting paradise. Sri Lanka relaxed after Younis left and bowled an assortment of irregular bowlers like Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratane Dilshan, Malinda Warnapura and Mahela Jayawardene. Akmal scored 98 runs off the irregular bowlers and reached 158 off only 184 balls before Younis finally declared on 765.

Despite the late excitement, it was a predictable and a just result on the placid pitch. Neither team finished their first innings completely and had to declare - not the perfect advertisement for the longer version of the game, especially considering that this was Pakistan's first home Test in 16 months. The attention now shifts to the second Test, starting on March 1 at Lahore.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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