Babar Azam holds fort for Pakistan
Babar Azam held the lower order together to help Pakistan whittle away at Sri Lanka’s sizeable lead and bring it down to just 28 at Tea. The visitors were 194/9 in reply to Sri Lanka’s 222 at the break.
Pakistan had begun the session at 104 for 7. Even though Yasir Shah fell quickly after the Lunch break, Prabath Jayasuriya and Co. weren’t able to extract much bite from the surface with a relatively old Kookaburra ball, as Pakistan collected crucial runs in a slow-moving session. Hasan Ali, batting at No.10, gave the innings some impetus by tonking Maheesh Theekshana for two sixes in the 56th over. Incidentally, in Theekshana’s previous over, the spinner had put down a sharp caught and bowled chance to give Hasan a reprieve.
Eventually, in an attempt to slog-sweep Ramesh Mendis, Hasan perished. With the score reading 148 for 9, Sri Lanka would have still hoped to gain a substantial lead. However, Babar played with a degree of patience and found an able ally in Naseem as the pair frustrated Sri Lanka. Naseem remained unbeaten on zero for most part of the session but showcased solid defence. He did have a narrow escape when he was adjudged caught at FSL off Theekshana. But Naseem immediately took the review and there was no spike on the Ultra-Edge and the decision had to be reversed.
At the other end, after farming the strike for a while, Babar decided to open up his shoulders by cracking three fours via mid-on, midwicket and square leg off Kasun Rajitha. At the fag end of the session, he also pulled Theekshana wide of mid-on and then essayed a sublime inside-out lofted drive off Jayasuriya. Babar, who is just five short of what would be a superbly paced hundred, will look to erase the deficit after the break.
Earlier, In what had turned out to be an action-packed session, Jayasuriya ran through the heart of Pakistan’s batting order. When play commenced after rain played spoilsport for a brief period, the two overnight batters – Azhar Ali and Babar Azam – would have hoped to take Pakistan to safer waters. Unfortunately for the tourists, in the very first over of the day, Azhar was trapped in front while attempting a sweep off Jayasuriya.
At that stage, Babar and Mohammad Rizwan rightly looked to take the aggressive route to share a timely stand of 40. Just when it felt as if the duo would negate the threat of Jayasuriya, Rizwan fell to the off-spin of Ramesh Mendis, with the wicketkeeper grabbing the chance. Salman Agha, the debutant, followed Rizwan back to the hut, dismissed LBW via a slider from Jayasuriya. Mohammad Nawaz couldn’t last long either, with Oshada Fernando showing very good reflexes at forward short leg to pouch the catch off Jayasuriya’s bowling. The left-arm spinner then took his third five-for in just his second Test by dislodging Shaheen Afridi LBW.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 222 (Dinesh Chandimal 68*, Maheesh Theekshana 38; Shaheen Afridi 4-58) lead Pakistan 194/9 (Babar Azam 95*; Prabath Jayasuriya 5-69) by 28 runs.