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.
Mohammad Amir aborted his bowling innings after hurling down three overs in Dubai on Saturday. Wahab Riaz took a little over seven and a half minutes to bowl the 111th over of the Sri Lankan innings after pulling out of his run up five times. Later on in the second session, Riaz was warned for running onto the danger area.
The listless efforts of two premier left-arm pacers summed up Pakistan’s fortunes not only in the Dubai Test but the two-match series.
A combination of fitness issues, low bowling resources and a charged-up Sri Lankan team have brought Pakistan to the brink of their first Test series defeat in UAE ever since they moved base to the country after the terrorist strike on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in 2009.
Left-arm pacer Amir walked off the field right before stumps on Friday after what was revealed to be discomfort in his shin. But the team management didn’t opt for a scan. They kept him under observation overnight and paid a price for their decision on the second day when Amir walked off the field in the first session.
He underwent an MRI scan but we will never know whether those three extra overs made things worse for him.
Wahab has looked considerably less incisive than Hasan Ali, who got injured after the first Test in Abu Dhabi, and his ridiculously long 19th over was about the only highlight for him in Dubai apart from Dimuth Karunaratne’s dismissal’.
With no other frontline spinner in the side, leg-spinner Yasir Shah has been forced to the bulk of the bowling. His tally so far in the series is 84 overs in Abu Dhabi and 55.5 already in Dubai.
The moment Sri Lanka went after him, starting from Sadeera Samarawickrama on the opening day, Pakistan simply had nothing to fall back upon.
Pakistan management has been regularly asked about the logic behind fielding just one spinner and then relying on the part-time spin of Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq. But no satisfactory answer has been provided.
All these individual pieces have combined to form a nightmare for Pakistan where the fast bowlers look far from effective, one spinner bowls 50 overs or more and part-timers bowl far too many overs.
And just as things have started to fall apart for Pakistan, Sri Lanka have picked their game up. This is the same Sri Lankan side that lost 9-0 to India across formats but Dinesh Chandimal, in his first Test series as full-time captain, has whipped the team into shape.
According to reports, discipline has been top priority for the islanders and one member of the current side has already been warned of possible suspension if he breaks team rules.
All that effort seems to be paying off. The tourists have put themselves in a great position to pull off an unprecedented series win. And if they do manage that, the perfect storm created in Pakistan’s dressing room would have played a major role in it.
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has extended the contract of head coach Mickey Arthur and his support staff until the end of the ICC World Cup 2019 to be held in England.
“Contracts of the head coach and other support staff have been extended till the World Cup. The only change that can be made in the management is that of the manager,” an official told PTI before leaving for Sri Lanka.
“The PCB will review whether to retain former Test batsman Talat Ali as manager or make a new appointment after the ongoing series against Sri Lanka,” the official added.
PCB has extended Mickey Arthur and the rest of the support staff’s contracts until the 2019 World Cup #Cricket
— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) October 6, 2017
The 49-year-old Arthur took over the reins of the Pakistan team on a two-year contract in May 2016 before the start of the side’s England tour.
The South African’s contract was meant to be reviewed on a two-year basis however Pakistan’s unexpected victory at the ICC Champions Trophy in England this summer has led the PCB to review the contract much earlier than anticipated.
“It makes no sense to make changes now as the next important assignment is the World Cup,” the PCB official said.
Meanwhile PCB has investigated Umar Akmal’s allegations of verbal abuse against the South African and concluded that the head coach was not guilty of the charges.
“Arthur told Umar that only contracted players were being trained at the NCA when Umar raised the issue of Salman Butt (having nets at the NCA). The head coach told him to focus on his own fitness and form. Arthur didn’t say anything out of ordinary,” the official said.
Former Zimbabwe stalwart Grant Flowers is employed as the batting coach with Australian Steve Rixon handling the fielding coach duties.
Former Pakistan all-rounder Azhar Mahmood is the bowling coach in Arthur’s set up while South African Grant Luden and Australian Shane Hayes are employed as the fitness coach and team physiotherapist respectively.