Galle had it all: an ace speedster’s return, a dramatic comeback, and a wicket off the last ball.
Those final two wickets effectively ended Pakistan’s day, with Ramesh Mendis, the last acknowledged batsman with Dhananjaya,
Sri Lanka 242 for 6 against Pakistan (Dhananjaya 94*, Mathews 64, Afridi 3-63)
Rain halted play on the first day in Galle. Still, Pakistan and Sri Lanka engaged in an intriguing tug of war, with the visitors streaking ahead courtesy of a Shaheen Shah Afridi three-wicket burst before the hosts reeled them back with a 131-run fifth wicket stand between Angelo Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva.
While Mathews fell on the stroke of tea, Dhananjaya stitched another crucial partnership with Sadeera Samarawickrama (36 off 57) before Pakistan struck one final blow on the stroke of stumps, as Samarawickrama was brilliantly caught at short leg by Imam-ul-Haq. Sri Lanka has a score of 242 for 6.
Those final two wickets effectively ended Pakistan’s day, with Ramesh Mendis, the last acknowledged batsman with Dhananjaya, scheduled to bat next. But, with Dhananjaya still undefeated on 94 off 157 deliveries, Pakistan will stay within reach of themselves, especially after he spent most of the day demonstrating his almost uncanny ability to deliver when Sri Lanka needed him.
He arrived at the crease with his team, 54 for 4 this time. This occurred during the morning session’s hour of play between an 85-minute rain delay and a late lunch. Afridi had already dismissed Nishan Madushka to claim his 100th Test wicket before the break. Still, he upped the ante after the break, squaring up Kusal Mendis to have him caught at second slip and then strangling the set Dimuth Karunaratne down the leg side.
However, after the break, with the sun shining, any movement the seamers had detected earlier in the day had all but vanished. This was when Mathews and Dhananjaya went to work, neutralizing whatever Pakistan threw at them. This session produced a total of 120 runs.
Mathews was in fine form, hitting two beautiful straight drives. Babar Azam tried a short-ball plan for a few overs before abandoning it after Mathews and Dhananjaya proved unfazed – presumably due to the ball holding up in the pitch when dug in.
As a result, spinners Abrar Ahmed and Noman Ali bowled throughout the middle session. However, because it was still day one in Galle, there needed to be more turn on offer, making it difficult for either to exert any form of concerted pressure. Mathews found it easy to rotate the strike, whereas Dhananjaya took on the role of aggressor. Noman was the unfortunate victim of most of this aggression, being taken for four fours and two sixes, the most notable of which was an immaculate inside-out drive over long-off.
As the session concluded, Mathews got in on the act, taking Agha Salman for back-to-back boundaries through midwicket; in total, he would hit nine boundaries. He was on his way to his 16th Test century when he floated a cut through to the keeper off Abrar. Apart from that early Afridi spell, it was at this stage when Sri Lanka suffered the most, with Samarawickrama unable to read Abrar’s variations. Figuring out the direction of the turn-off of the pitch didn’t work out either, as he was beaten on both the inside and outside edge multiple times. The rare loose ball, though, would regularly remove whatever pressure was being generated.
At the other end, with Noman mainly ineffectual, Babar went with Naseem, where the short ball tactic and various field placements, such as catching mid-ons and mid-offs, were unsuccessful.
When rain interrupted play again midway through the third session, Pakistan caught a second wind and delivered a thrilling seven-over period before the session ended. Abrar was tormenting Samarawickrama as Afridi operated from one end, once again finding lateral movement off the deck where there appeared to be none. Salman, who had been largely ineffective, was called in to bowl the final over of the day – his fifth in total – and got Samarawickrama to pop one off bat and pad to the right of Imam, who dived full length to his right and somehow held on, as Pakistan ended the day the happier of the two sides.
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