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Karunaratne, Chandimal carry Sri Lanka to safety

Following the nightmare that was the series against India, Sri Lanka’s batsmen applied themselves, saw out Yasir Shah, resisted Hasan Ali’s reverse swing, and mustered a day of unexpected competence in Abu Dhabi. Instrumental to fitting this innings with a backbone was Dimuth Karunaratne, whose 93 was the latest in a string of valuable innings this year.

Sri Lanka had threatened to collapse again, going to lunch at 61 for 3, but the century stand between Karunaratne and Dinesh Chandimal raised them out of danger. Niroshan Dickwella then added a finishing spark to the day, hitting 42 off 63 balls, and Sri Lanka reached a comfortable – if not quite safe – 227 for 4 by stumps.

The day had begun with so much promise for Pakistan – Yasir striking twice in that first session – but the bowlers could not manage a breakthrough in the second session. Hasan was intense in a seven-over burst of reverse-swing before tea, but though he drew an outside edge from Chandimal, and an inside edge from Karunaratne, a dismissal did not come. Late in the day, Chandimal was given out lbw for 58 when he shouldered arms to Mohammad Abbas, but that decision was overturned on review. Pakistan also burned their own reviews trying to get Yasir another wicket. Under the new rules, reviews are not replenished after 80 overs, so they are at the mercy of the umpires for the remainder of this innings.

Karunaratne was not quite as reticent as the batsmen around him, but nevertheless, barely ventured an adventurous shot, relying instead on his favourite leg-side flick. Almost half his runs came in the arc between square leg and long on, and nearly two thirds on the legside in general. His was the only intentional boundary of the first session, and he would go on to hit only four more – three of them off short, wide balls behind square. Despite being short on boundaries, he appeared more or less at ease at the crease until he was run out seven runs short of a century.

There was not a lot Pakistan’s bowlers could do, really. There was very little seam movement with the new ball. And though Yasir gleaned substantial turn towards the end of the day, the pitch was a long way from dustbowl – its green tinge persisting through the heat of a desert day. In this first post-Misbah-ul-Haq Test, they used a classic Misbah-era strategy: maintaining tight lines, and awaiting wickets.

It was a partial success. Of the four blows Sri Lanka suffered, at least two were the result of the pressure Pakistan had built. Batting in his first Test since June last year, at No. 3 no less, Lahiru Thirimanne was kept scoreless for six deliveries, and on his seventh, attempted a slog sweep off Yasir Shah. He missed and was out lbw. Then, late in the day, Karunaratne was run out for 93, having faced two consecutive maidens from Yasir.

The fault on that occasion, however, was Chandimal’s. Desperate to get off strike, Karunaratne had called Chandimal through as soon as he had flicked to midwicket. Chandimal was busy watching the ball, then turned his back on his partner. The single could have been comfortably taken.

Chandimal’s own half-century was a long, laboured thing, though given the travails his team has experienced over the past three months, perhaps he will feel this is just the kind of knock he needed to produce. It took him 52 balls to move to double figures, and 154 to get to his half century. Where once Chandimal had been the man to inject energy into the Sri Lanka top order, he has more recently specialised in these kinds of slow-burn knocks. He finished the day on 60 not out, having faced 184 deliveries.

Pakistan will not feel too disheartened by the scoreline, but will perhaps concede that Dickwella’s quick runs against the new ball perhaps mean that Sri Lanka are the slightly happier outfit at stumps. A flicked six over square leg, off Amir, was perhaps the most striking shot of the innings so far.

But this is, in essence, Sri Lanka’s last specialist batting pair. They have made the unusual choice of picking five specialist bowlers for this match. But they still have some work to do with the bat before they bring their trio of spinners properly into play. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)

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