A 146-run partnership from Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq has given Pakistan a glimmer of hope of avoiding a first Test series defeat in the UAE although Sri Lanka are still in the driving seat going into the final day in Dubai.
With the team reeling at 52-5 in their second innings chase of 317, the Pakistani pair came together and both scored half-centuries to reach stumps on 198-5 and frustrate the Sri Lankans on the fourth day of the second Test on Monday.
More of the same will be needed of Sarfraz and Shafiq, who are unbeaten on 57 and 86 respectively, as well as the rest of the tail-enders if they want to get the required 119 runs needed to pull off an unlikely victory and preserve their unbeaten series record in their adopted country.
If Sri Lanka, who won the first Test in Abu Dhabi, do prevail, they will become the first side to beat Pakistan in a Test ‘home’ series in the UAE since 2010, having won the opener in Abu Dhabi.
For Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur, he’s pleased to see his side are still in the game having seen his top-order struggled.
“It’s with a lot of relief that we are seeing a partnership developing,” he said. “They both played very well. We were talking about it at tea time. When we chased against Australia and Asad Shafiq scored 137 at the Gabba, it got us quite close. It sort of had the same feel. I’m so pleased for Asad Shafiq because he worked so hard and we know he’s a quality player and showed the skill. I just hope he can go all the way.
“I didn’t think I’d be actually sitting here thinking that we could win this at 6pm but it’s fantastic. It’s going to be a fantastic day. If these two guys double their partnership, we win the game.”
Before a ball was bowled on day four, Pakistan were already up against it but Wahab Riaz (4-41) and Haris Sohail (1-3) made quick work of dismissing Sri Lanka for just 96 after they resumed, struggling on 34-5.
In their chase, Pakistan fans hoped there would be no repeat of a batting debacle that saw them all out for 136 in their chase in Abu Dhabi last Monday.
But there were signs of frailty early on.
Shan Masood survived a scare in the first over after an lbw appeal, only for the DRS to save him.
Sami Aslam suffered the same fate when caught by Kusal Mendis but was given a lifeline when Lahiru Gamage overstepped for a no-ball. But he just faced another two deliveries before Gamage got his revenge when caught by Mendis for 1.
Pakistan needed another big knock from Azhar Ali (17) who scored 59 in the first innings. But having initially frustrated the tourists, Nuwan Pradeep got the key man with the batsman’s thick edge, presenting a simple catch for Kusal Silva at short square.
Loitering at 36-2, Pakistan found themselves in bigger trouble, losing another further three wickets before dinner.
However, Dilruwan Perera showed it isn’t just Rangana Herath who can take wickets with spin. After Sohail (10) was caught behind by Niroshan Dickwella, Perera removed Masood (21) and Babar Azam (0) in the same over to leave Pakistan 52-5.
It seemed it was only a matter of time before more wickets would fall but Sarfraz and Shafiq revived the innings, batting the whole of the last session to give a Pakistan a fighting chance.
Earlier, Pakistan needed just one hour of the first session to bowl out Sri Lanka for 96 – their ninth lowest Test score. Riaz got his fourth wicket and first over the day when Dickwella was caught superbly by Sarfraz. Yasir Shah finished 2-47 when removed Perera (0), before Sohail wrapped up the innings with three scalps in his only over.