Sri Lanka took control of the Galle Test, reducing Pakistan to 118 for 5 at stumps on the third day and leaving them facing a steep climb on a pitch with plenty of help for the spinners. When rain brought play to a close eight overs early, Pakistan were 182 runs adrift of Sri Lanka’s first-innings total of 300. That total was made possible by a dogged 125 from Kaushal Silva, who held the innings together in the morning even as wickets kept falling at the other end.
When Sri Lanka lost their last wicket halfway into the post-lunch session, the match appeared in the balance. It only took Dhammika Prasad ten balls to swing the advantage firmly the home side’s way. Last ball of his first over, Mohammad Hafeez chased a full outswinger and nicked to third slip; fourth ball of his second, Ahmed Shehzad played back to a length ball and fell over as it nipped back and pinged him on the front pad, in front of middle stump. Shehzad chose not to review, wisely, as ball-tracking showed umpire Richard Illingworth’s decision would stand with the ball appearing to clip the outside half of leg stump.
Rangana Herath has had the wood over Azhar Ali, and had dismissed him six times in Tests before he came in to bat today. Azhar was ill at ease against his flight and dip throughout his stay at the crease, and it was no surprise when he shuffled indecisively across his crease to an arm ball that beat his inside edge and smacked his pad right in front.
Post-tea, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq staged a brief recovery and showed positive intent during a fourth-wicket partnership of 51, with Younis in particular looking to use his feet against the spinners and put pressure back on them. He got to 47 with a number of punchy blows – including a muscular six off Dilruwan Perera that smacked into the top of the sightscreen – before perishing by the same methods that had brought him his runs. Dilruwan switched angle to around the wicket, and straightened an offbreak past Younis’ inside edge when he came down the track and looked to drive inside-out with an angled bat; 86 for 4.
Pakistan had added only 10 to their total when Nuwan Pradeep sucked Misbah into driving at a fullish ball in the corridor that shaped away ever so slightly. Pushing in front of his body with a minimal front-foot stride, he could only edge thickly to the left of Kumar Sangakkara, who took a terrific catch diving to his left from first slip.
At that point Pakistan were tottering, still 55 short of the follow-on mark. Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed batted through to stumps and minimised the chances of falling short of that target, but Pakistan were still in ample danger of conceding a big enough lead for Sri Lanka to win despite all the time lost to rain.
In that light, Silva’s efforts in the morning were priceless. He only added 45 to his overnight score despite batting through the first session and close to ten overs of the second. His solid presence at one end meant Pakistan were only able to chip away at the middle and lower order rather than blast their way through.
Pakistan’s bowling was persistent and incisive right through. The morning began with Yasir Shah ripping his legbreaks from a dangerous length and Wahab Riaz hustling in with pace and menace from the other. Wahab made the first breakthrough of the morning when he bowled Angelo Mathews from around the wicket. He found the perfect length, full but not quite drive-able, to exploit Mathews’ short, almost non-existent front-foot stride and resultant angled bat, and kiss his inside edge onto the stumps.
Sri Lanka’s score inched along, with the bowlers maintaining constricting lines, and Silva had only made three runs in 27 balls before he put Yasir away for two fours in one over, driving him with the turn through the covers and against it through midwicket. Dinesh Chandimal, similarly becalmed till then, struck three fours in two overs from Zulfiqar Babar.
Just when Sri Lanka seemed to have grabbed some of the momentum, the second new ball pegged them back. Pakistan took it as soon as it was due, but continued with Babar’s left-arm spin, contending that the shine would add extra skid to his arm ball. Babar struck Silva on the front pad with one such ball, with height possibly saving the batsman, and produced another lbw shout against Chandimal in his next over, before bowling him when he unwisely tried to make room and cut.
Junaid Khan, keeping it tight without quite showing the incision of his fellow left-arm seamer Wahab, nearly got on the scorecard when he found the edge of Kithuruwan Vithanage’s flashing, crooked bat outside off, but the ball flew too quickly for the airborne Younis Khan to grab it at second slip.
Pakistan didn’t have to wait too long for Vithanage’s wicket, though, and like Lahiru Thirimanne on the second day, he too fell to a soft dismissal, and he too fell to that scourge of left-handed batsmen, Hafeez. The ball that got him was an innocuous low full-toss, which he popped straight back to the bowler. It was Hafeez’s 51st Test wicket, and his 35th of a left-handed batsman.
Yasir had looked the most threatening Pakistan bowler but his first wicket only came when he had Dilruwan caught behind with a spitting legbreak two balls into the post-lunch session. The end didn’t take too long coming, in terms of runs, though Prasad made Pakistan wait a little longer than they would have liked with a 23-ball duck, before Silva was ninth out, gloving an attempted sweep to the keeper.