Stumps Pakistan 24 for 2 (Azhar 3*, Babar 1*, Jayasuriya 1-2) trail Sri Lanka 222 (Chandimal 76, Theekshana 38, Oshada 35, Afridi 4-58, Hasan 2-23, Yasir 2-66) by 198 runs
Sri Lanka dislodged both of Pakistan’s openers in the final hour of play on day one in Galle, as the hosts fought back hard on a day that had largely belonged to the visitors.
Kasun Rajitha got one to nip back in from around the wicket to trap the left-handed Imam-ul-Haq lbw – a delivery that’s fast becoming a hallmark of Rajitha’s bowling – while Prabath Jayasuriya accounted for Abdullah Shafique, who was also dismissed leg before, rapped on the pads by one going on with the arm.
From that point on, Azhar Ali and Babar Azam shut up shop and looked to bat out the rest of the day, though with the wicket starting to show some assistance for the spinners, Sri Lanka would have no doubt been encouraged.
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Pakistan would end the day 198 runs behind, a deficit that could have been significantly less if not for the efforts of Dinesh Chandimal counterattack and Maheesh Theekshana rearguard, who scored 76 and 38 respectively.
Chandimal’s counterattack and Theekshana’s resolute rearguard had managed to cajole a respectable total after Pakistan’s bowlers, led by the excellent Shaheen Shah Afridi – who finished with 4 for 58 – had at one point threatened to blow them away; Sri Lanka’s final two wickets added 89 runs as they recovered from an ignominious 133 for 8 to a more respectable 222.
Chandimal’s innings was reminiscent at times of the blitzkrieg effort he had mounted against Australia less than a week prior. The battle-worn former skipper cut, pulled, swept and drove his way to a 115-ball 76, even if he was forced to share much of that knock with Theekshana – ostensibly a tail-ender, even if some of his strokeplay at times belied that definition.
The zenith of his knock came when Sri Lanka were at their lowest, having just a few overs prior lost their eighth wicket. Chandimal, realising that runs were at a premium, took on the challenge, lacing Naseem Shah for three consecutive boundaries. The first two were short balls disdainfully dispatched in front of square leg, while the final brought up his 22nd Test fifty, a delightful front-foot clip piercing deep square leg and deep fine leg that reached the ropes on the bounce. He saved his best stroke, though, for left-arm spinner Mohammed Nawaz, who he slog-swept for a maximum over square leg.
Had Chandimal had his way, though, he probably would have played a more watchful knock on a wicket that needed patience, even if it wasn’t quite the raging turner Galle is known for. The wastefulness of his team-mates, however, had forced his hand.
Dinesh Chandimal raises his fifty•SLC
Having won the toss and elected to bat, Sri Lanka got off to an inauspicious start, with skipper Dimuth Karunaratne playing on to his stumps.
He became the latest victim of Afridi’s trademark early-overs blitz. Afridi had probed the line outside Karunaratne’s off stump, and having spotted his propensity to push towards cover, got one to nip back just enough to catch the inside edge off the forward defence on to pad and then the off peg.
This early blow, however, wouldn’t slow down the Sri Lankans, as Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando, who came in for the indisposed Pathum Nissanka, found boundaries with regularity, and the seamers struggled for the most part to keep to consistent lines and lengths.
At the height of their 49-run stand – which would be Sri Lanka’s best of the innings – the hosts were going at around four an over. However, they fell in the space of three deliveries after the first drinks break. Kusal was the first to go, getting a faint bottom edge through to Mohammad Rizwan behind the stumps, as he looked to cut one that was pushed through quicker by Yasir. Oshada followed, as a tentative defensive push to one wide outside off from Hasan Ali at the start of the next over found the edge – thicker than Kusal’s – to Rizwan, who had to put in a dive to cling on.
Angelo Mathews followed soon after; frustrated after 14 scoreless deliveries, he chipped a simple catch to mid-on off Yasir.
Those four wickets came in the morning session alone; Sri Lanka would lose four more post-lunch, a session which had started with Sri Lanka on 80 for 4.
Dhananjaya de Silva, back in place of Kamindu Mendis after recovering from Covid-19, fell in the fifth over after the break, chopping on a somewhat casual attempt at a cover drive off Afridi – his second such wicket of the day.
Afridi then dismissed Niroshan Dickwella off the first ball of his very next over, angling one into the left hander’s off stump, coaxing the drive, only to seam it away just enough to grab a thick outside edge to gully, where debutant Agha Salman completed an impressive low take.
Ramesh Mendis then joined Chandimal at the crease, and the two ground out a 27-run stand before Ramesh gloved a short one from Naseem Shah down leg. It was yet another avoidable dismissal.
Pakistan were then on the home stretch, and having been held off for most of the day – largely down to how well the rest of the bowlers did – the left-arm orthodox spin of Nawaz finally came into play, as he trapped Prabath Jayasuriya lbw with one that skidded through.
Babar Azam and Azhar Ali have a job to do on the second day•AFP/Getty Images
At that point Sri Lanka were 133 for 8, on the floor, struggling to beat the 10 count. Chandimal and Theekshana though would not be cowed, as they putting on a 44-run stand off just 65 deliveries. And while Chandimal would fall shortly after tea – caught in the covers courtesy an excellent take by Yasir, diving full stretch to his right, off Hasan – Theekshana and last man Kasun Rajitha would continue to frustrate the visitors.
On the way to 70-ball 45-run stand, the pair would show defiance some of their more illustrious teammates would do well to take note off. The pair would bat for over an hour, comfortably dealing with the short stuff the seamers threw their way, while also occasionally finding the gaps in the covers. In between the forward defence was frequently employed against the spin of Yasir and Nawaz.
Theekshana was very enterprising, his 65-ball 38 including four boundaries and a six, a jaunt down the track and hit over long-off off the bowling of Yasir. The boundaries came mainly square of the wicket on the off side, Theekshana capitalising on Pakistan’s persistence with shorter lengths.
Pakistan looked to be growing increasingly vexed, when Rajitha top edged to deep square-leg only to be dropped by Hasan at deep square-leg. Pakistan might have that been feeling a sense of de ja vu, with yet another instance of wagging tail thwarting them. But in the end that drop didn’t prove too costly. Theekshana would fall a few deliveries later, getting a tickle on an attempted uppercut off Afridi.
By that time though, his job had been done, as Sri Lanka will feel they now have some sort of foothold in a game that for much of the day looked to have been slipping away.