Ever the entertainers, Pakistan first made a lavish surrender with the bat, then came hurtling back into the game with the ball, during an extraordinary 15-wicket day in Dubai. Though they ceded a 220-run first-innings lead to Sri Lanka, so total was their dominance in the last 14.3 overs of the day, that their hopes of squaring the series live for another day.
Wahab Riaz, in one of his wonderfully intense bursts, uprooted three batsmen while conceding only 10 runs, as Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas took one wicket apiece. Though they had seemed almost completely out of the match only one hour prior, it is Sri Lanka who will be under most strain when play begins again on day four. They have five wickets in hand still, but were only 254 runs ahead after the third day. They have lost matches from stronger positions in the past three years.
Three separate collapses defined day three. The first arrived in the afternoon session. Pakistan had begun the day at 61 for no loss, but soon haemhorrhaged four wickets for 48 runs, putting Sri Lanka in control of the Test – or so it was thought. Shan Masood was the first to go, allowing debutant Lahiru Gamage to jag a ball through his defences from around the wicket. Sami Aslam – the more confident of the openers – was soon trapped in front by Dilruwan Perera. Having lost their overnight pair inside the first six overs of the day, Pakistan’s senior batsmen Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali attempted a steady recovery. A fine piece of reverse-swing bowling from Suranga Lakmal, however, removed Shafiq. Swinging the ball in to the batsman, then straightening it off the seam, Lakmal collected Shafiq’s edge and had him caught low to the ground, by a tumbling Kusal Mendis at first slip. Babar Azam’s dismissal just before the tea break was largely the batsman’s own doing: he tamely bunted an unremarkable Rangana Herath delivery to short midwicket.
The second was Pakistan’s surrender of six wickets for 82 runs, beginning with the dismissal of Azhar Ali towards the tail end of the twilight session. Their batsmen appeared muddled right through that period, Azhar, Haris Sohail and Mohammad Amir all being dismissed lbw by the spinners, before Sri Lanka’s quicks wiped out the last two wickets with the second new ball. The bowlers shared around the rewards. Dilruwan and Herath claimed three wickets each, while Suranga Lakmal and Lahiru Gamage took two apiece. Captain Dinesh Chandimal can take a little credit as well – two of the wickets in this period came from overturning umpires’ decisions, via reviews.
It was the third collapse, however, that was the most dramatic. All Sri Lanka had to do when they began their second innings was to see out the new ball, with a view to scoring roughly 200 on day four in order to set up a declaration. But this being a Pakistan-Sri Lanka Test, things rarely go that smoothly for an ascendant team.
Mohammad Abbas made the initial breakthrough, getting Kaushal Silva to nick a straightening ball behind. Then the big wicket. Dimuth Karunaratne aimed a cut off a wide Wahab delivery, but managed only to deflect the ball back on to his wickets – the second time he has fallen in this fashion, to the same bowler, in this Test. Wahab then had Sadeera Samarawickrama glove the ball to the wicketkeeper, trying to hook a legside bouncer. Then he struck Chandimal in front with a ball that would have gone on to clip the top of leg stump. In between, Yasir also had nightwatchman Suranga Lakmal out lbw.
The only extended wicket-free patch of day three came in the second session, as Azhar and Sohail made 71 runs in each other’s company. Haris attacked occasionally, flitting down the pitch to launch Herath over the straight boundary twice, while Azhar hit his boundaries through cover. But it was the singles and twos that defined their partnership. Azhar favoured the legside, stepping out towards off stump to flick or sweep the spinners. Haris scored square of the pitch on both sides, hitting two memorable fours behind point, off Perera and Nuwan Pradeep. Both went on to make half-centuries, but were each dismissed before they could reach 60. Without this partnership, Pakistan would have been out of the match completely.
The expressions of Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur, on the dressing room balcony, summed up his team’s day the best. He was visibly disappointed in the afternoon, tense through the twilight session, then grumpy as Pakistan’s middle and lower order threw their wickets away. At stumps, he was grinning. (Courtesy ESPN Cricinfo)