Pakistan ended Day four on a decent score of 89/1, adding only 18 runs to their total after Tea as poor light – again brought an early end to the day’s play. In pursuit of 508 for a win given Sri Lanka declared their second innings on 360/8, the visitors need 419 runs on the final day, with nine wickets intact.
The hosts continued to have the upper hand on Wednesday, with overnight batters Dimuth Karunaratne and Dhananjaya de Silva blunting the Pakistani attack for nearly an hour before the captain fell to a sharp catch from Abdullah Shafique at forward short leg, on 61. In the process of raising his 31st Test fifty, he also breached the 6000-run mark in Test cricket.
However, his dismissal didn’t deter Sri Lanka from their approach. Dhananjaya went on the attack against the spinners. The lower order batters provided him ample support, with Dunith Wellalge adding a breezy 18 runs before his reverse sweep off Mohammad Nawaz ended up in the hands of the wicketkeeper.
With the lead over 400, Ramesh Mendis had adequate incentive to follow the enterprising approach. En route his 54-ball 45*, he clubbed Hasan Ali for three successive boundaries as he built a crucial 82-run stand for the eighth wicket in tandem with Dhananjaya, who was the binding glue of Sri Lanka’s second innings.
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The Sri Lankan vice captain brought up his century by slashing Nawaz for a boundary. The fatigued Pakistani bowlers aided Sri Lankan’s cause a great deal by offering ample freebies. His innings was cut short after he was involved in an episode of miscommunication with Ramesh Mendis which saw both the batters in the middle of the pitch when Yasir Shah effected a direct hit at the stumps.
Pakistan’s innings began on a tepid note. Abdullah Shafique could’ve nearly been dismissed cheaply twice off Asitha Fernando in the same match when he turned the ball away from the pacer straight into the hands of the short leg fielder. To his luck, the bowler had overstepped.
However, he couldn’t amply cash in on that opportunity. Just when it seemed that the openers were looking comfortable against the turning ball, Shafique’s attempt to loft Prabath Jayasuriya over the ring brought about his downfall as Wellalage took the catch at mid off to dismiss the batter on 16.
But Pakistan, even though cautious, didn’t take their foot off the pedal. Babar Azam was quick to sense scoring opportunities, crunching two boundaries in the short period after Tea, as he headed to stumps unbeaten on 26, in the company of Imam ul Haq. With rain expected to make its presence felt on the final day, both teams will have a uphill task at hand to force a result. But 1-0 down in the two-match series, the onus will be on the islanders to make inroads into Pakistan’s batting unit.