Sri Lanka reaches 63 for 2, trailing by 54, on day four after lower order lifts Pakistan to impressive 417
A patient century from Asad Shafiq and aggressive half-centuries from Sarfraz Ahmed and Zulfiqar Babar put Pakistan in a strong position at the end of the fourth day of the first Test against Sri Lanka in Galle on Saturday (June 20).
After Pakistan was bowled out for 417, a lead of 117, Sri Lanka was 63 for 2 at stumps, trailing by 54 runs with Dimuth Karunaratne on 36 and Dilruwan Perera on nought.
Pakistan started the day on a tricky 118 for 5, but Sarfraz, along with a steady Shafiq at the other end, helped the visiting side wrest the momentum. Sarfraz set the tone with an 86-ball 96, Shafiq played sheet anchor through the day for a determined 131 and Babar added some valuable runs down the order, smashing his way to 56 off 60 balls.
While Sarfraz starred with shots on either side of the wicket, the most impressive feature of Shafiq's knock was his willingness to play second fiddle, even to the tailenders. He allowed Sarfraz to hog the limelight in the 139-run stand for the sixth wicket and continued to stay in the background later on. In the process, he stitched small but vital stands with the bowlers to keep Pakistan afloat.
The honours appeared even when Perera dismissed Wahab Riaz soon after the tea break. Sri Lanka opted for the second new ball as soon as it was available and with only the bowlers remaining with Shafiq, there was a slight danger of Pakistan being bowled out below Sri Lanka's first-innings score of 300. Shafiq and Babar, along with Yasir Shah – who scored an entertaining 29-ball 23 – ensured that didn’t happen.
With the lead in the bag, it was a matter of having fun in the middle in a Test unlikely to end in a result, with the first day of the game washed out due to rain. Babar did just that and smashed his way to a maiden Test half-century off just 48 balls.
The new ball flew off Babar's bat to all parts of the ground. Sri Lanka tried the short-ball strategy but Babar hooked and sliced to the fence, and was equally harsh against the spinners, lofting Rangana Herath over extra cover for an audacious six. His half-century, too, came with a massive six off Dilruwan over long-on.
All this, even as Shafiq quietly scored his seventh Test century. Perera then accounted for both in quick succession after tea but not before they had put Pakistan in a strong position.
Sri Lanka was circumspect in its reply, and it wasn't long before Wahab Riaz found Silva's edge with a slower ball. Wahab nearly had Kumar Sangakkara with a sharp short ball for nought in his next over, but Azhar Ali put down a straightforward catch at forward short-leg.
Sangakkara steadied the innings for a while but couldn't make most of the reprieve and fell to Shah for 18, moments before stumps, pushing at one that bounced from the rough only to get an inside edge to short-leg.
A result may not be possible on Sunday, but Pakistan certainly gave itself an outside chance with a spirited all-round performance.
To see the full scorecard of this match, please click here.