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Pakistan haul off astonish chase

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Pakistan twisted a Test that had been an terrible announcement for cricket for four days and one session on its head, with an unbelievable batting performance after lunch on the final day, when they scored 302 runs in 57.3 overs to hit Sri Lanka and level the series. Their run-rate of 5.25 was the second highest in a successful chase of a 200-plus target, and the characters of this heist – Azhar Ali, Sarfraz Ahmed and Misbah-ul-Haq – proved that the soporific pace of the previous days was entirely by design, largely Sri Lanka’s to protect their 1-0 lead.

For the fifth day to have ended in a result, both teams needed to play extraordinary cricket. Pakistan were extraordinarily purposeful; Sri Lanka were extraordinarily neglectful. The visitors began the day with a lead of 220 and five second-innings wickets in hand but batted so slowly, adding 19 runs in the last 16.4 overs. With a minimum of 59 overs left in two sessions Sri Lanka were silent favorites, if not to win then surely to draw, but they were defensive from the beginning against a worried Pakistan unit. As Misbah-ul-Haq’s side towards the target with an new efficiency, it became too late for Angelo Mathews to break himself and his side out of dream. Sri Lanka sank in the Sharjah twilight, with their captain and fielders feebly complaining regarding not being able to see the ball.

Pakistan needed 195 in 35 overs at the start of the final session, and they had made a tactical decision to send Sarfraz Ahmed in at No.5, soon earlier of  the tea break. He proved to be the booster, and the method he used to attack Rangana Herath’s defensive line trickle with originality.

Herath operated from over the wicket and inclined wide outside leg stump for most of his 19 overs, which cost 100 and yielded no wickets, but when he did so after tea Sarfraz took guard close to the wide-ball indicators outside leg stump and strike inside-out through covers to beat a packed on-side field. After some such shots, Mathews moved a fielder from the leg to the off, and Sarfraz rapidly ploded Herath over the midwicket boundary to take 15 runs off the 29th over, the most expensive of the match.

While Sarfraz made use of his permit to run unrest, Azhar build up quickly in a more organised manner, driving the steamers and sweeping Herath off his negative line. With the field spread deep, Azhar picked off the gaps to get to his half-century off 79 balls, and his 89-run stand with Sarfraz approach at a run-a-ball. Pakistan needed 116 off 22.2 overs when Misbah walked in, after Sarfraz had been caught gloving a Shaminda Eranga short ball down the leg side.

Mathews remained suspicious despite having a new batsman at the crease and the 40th over of the chase, from Suranga Lakmal, was a defining one. Azhar jumped outside leg and drove, forcing a full-length dive from the deep-cover fielder, the next three balls went to deep point and deep midwicket, before Misbah pulled to the fine-leg boundary. The over cost 12 runs, and Pakistan’s momentum was unaffected by Sarfraz’s departure.

Despite Azhar and Misbah extensive and reverse-sweeping Herath at will, irrespective of whether he bowled over or round the wicket, and the left-arm spinner proving completely ineffective at controlling the run-rate, Mathews did not use his off spinner Dilruwan Perera at all.

Sri Lanka tried to stall the game in the last hour, with Eranga needing protracted attention from the physio after his arm came into contact with Misbah’s helmet, which prompted umpire Richard Kettleborough to ask the physio to stay off the ground when Lakmal fell while gathering  a ball. The equation balanced to 30 off 30 balls, and after three runs off the first two deliveries of the Lakmal over, Azhar cleared his front foot and sway to the midwicket boundary. A ball later, he celebrated a century off 133 balls. The century stand with Misbah had taken only 111.

Even when Pakistan needed 17 off four overs, the field stayed extended. Sri Lanka had actually lost the Test long before the winning runs were hit.

The base for Pakistan’s final-session daring had been laid after the lunch break, when Ahmed Shehzad and Khurram Manzoor came out swinging. As soon as Shehzad taped Eranga for two fours in the second over and Manzoor charged and smashed Lakmal to the cover boundary in the third, Mathews dispersed his fielders. The approach was helter-skelter and burdened with risk, though. Shehzad eventually mis-hit a slower ball and was fixed at deep midwicket, while Manzoor was caught agilely down the leg side by the wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene. Pakistan had got to 48 at more than five an over.

Azhar began his innings by cutting his second ball violently through point, but his partnership with Younis Khan was more measured. With plenty of gaps to use, they picked up singles and twos comfortably. They added 49 in 12.4 overs when Younis pulled Mathews directly to midwicket to leave Pakistan on 97 for 3.

Pakistan did not go on the defensive although losing Younis. Instead, they promoted Sarfraz, and he charged and struggle Mathews to the midwicket boundary in the last over before tea, small indication of the damage he would impose on Sri Lanka after the break.

Sri Lanka would not have suffered such an embarrassing defeat had they played more periods of this Test with a appearance of the urgency Prasanna showed for an hour this morning. After they scored at 1.87 for 71 overs on the fourth day, Prasanna led the gathering of 62 runs in 14 overs on the last morning. A few wickets, however, forced a theatrical slowdown and Sri Lanka went at a little more than a run an over for the rest of their innings. At the end of the Test, Sri Lanka had batted 273.4 overs; Pakistan needed only 166.4 overs to score a run more. There lay the difference.