Duo hits half-centuries to take host to 198 for 5 on fourth day, needing another 119 runs for victory in second Test.
Pakistan lived to fight another day, with Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed hitting unbeaten half-centuries on the fourth day of the second Test in Dubai on Monday (October 9), to set up an exciting finale to the two-Test series.
Tottering at 52 for 5 after being set a target of 317, it looked like Pakistan would succumb on the fourth day itself, but Shafiq (86 not out) and Sarfraz (57 not out) showed their potential during an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 146, taking the team to 198 for 5 at stumps.
Pakistan will need the two to stay on to take it as close to scoring the remaining 119 runs as possible, and thus avoid its first series defeat on its adopted home of United Arab Emirates. Pakistan has won five and drawn four of the nine series it has played here since 2009, the year that marked the suspension of international cricket on its home turf.
Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, hoped the two batsmen would complete the job. "Well we have seven overs before the second new ball so we must cash on to those overs," said Arthur after the day’s play. "It will be a fantastic session and we would like this stand to go on and win us the match."
Shafiq scored his first half-century in 12 innings, showing what he was capable of. Both batsmen, though, were lucky to be let off in the same Dilruwan Perera (3 for 76) over by Kusal Mendis, fielding close in.
Sri Lanka bowled with purpose. Its fast bowlers kept a tight line and length while the spinners – Perera and Rangana Herath – attacked. To its credit, Pakistan didn’t give a single wicket to Herath, the man posing the most danger.
The day began with Sri Lanka on 34 for 5 in its second innings. It added 62 more before its innings folded at 96 – its third lowest total against Pakistan – with Haris Sohail taking three wickets in one over. Sohail became the man with the golden arm when he had Herath first ball, Mendis off the fourth ball and Nuwan Pradeep off the last one. He is the only bowler in Test cricket history to take three wickets in the only over he has bowled.
Wahab Riaz had figures of 4 for 41 while Sohail had an astonishing 3 for 1.
That gave Pakistan a daunting target, which looked beyond it when it started losing wickets at regular intervals. It had luck on its side, though, with Sri Lanka denied three wickets in the first five overs.
Sami Aslam was caught off a no-ball. Television replays, however, showed it wasn't a no-ball. But it didn't take Lahiru Gamage long to dismiss Aslam. He had his man two balls later, as Sami edged in the same style to the same fielder in Mendis in the slips.
Azhar Ali, too, was shaky, surviving two confident lbw appeals. Replays showed the second one was hitting the stumps, but the batsman was saved on umpire's call. Finally, a wisely set field had Azhar caught at a position between square leg and forward short leg for 17.
Perera then came into his own, dismissing Shan Masood, who was under pressure to save his position in the team. Sohail was promoted and he showed aggression but fell to Perera for the third time in the series. Babar Azam proved that he was not yet fully conversant with the longer version, and once again was dismissed just minutes before a break – for the 16th time in his career and for a sixth duck this year.
But after that, it was the Shafiq and Sarfraz show, ensuring that come Tuesday, it’s still game on.