Pakistan v Sri Lanka: Babar Azam, Azhar Ali tons pull hosts closer to victory as Oshada Fernando resists

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The late dismissals of Sri Lanka wicketkeeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella and Dilruwan Perera put Pakistan on the brink of a first Test victory this year.

After what was an eventful penultimate day in the final Test in Karachi, the hosts were just three wickets away from what will become their maiden red-ball triumph on home soil in over a decade.

Some excellent batting earlier in the day from Azhar Ali and Babar Azam had helped Pakistan amass a mammoth second innings total of 555-3 before the former opted to declare. Tasked with chasing a near improbable 476, Sri Lanka were reeling at 212-7 before stumps were drawn on Day Four in Karachi.

Azhar Ali ends wretched run

Something to smile about at last for Azhar Ali.

Something to smile about at last for Azhar Ali.

The pressure was mounting heavily on Azhar Ali with the Pakistan skipper averaging just 12 with the bat in the calendar year. His measly returns and string of poor shows had raised question marks over his appointment as captain with the veteran himself acknowledging his lack of runs in the build up to the final Test.

Getting dismissed for a duck in the first innings only compounded Azhar’s misery with the right-hander undone by a corker of a delivery by Vishwa Fernando. All eyes, hence, were on his second innings display and the Pakistan skipper could not have asked for a better time to walk in to bat.

With openers Abid Ali and Shan Masood putting on a 278-run stand, the pressure had dissipated on Azhar’s arrival to the crease. The 34-year-old made the most of the situation and placid batting conditions by bringing up a 16th Test ton and his first in over a year.

It ended a wretched run of 13 innings without a century for the top-order batsman who had endured a similar wait of 18 innings for his previous ton against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi. If nothing else, the innings should buy the under-fire skipper some more time at the helm.

Sublime Babar joins in on the run-fest

Babar keeps getting better in the Test format.

Babar keeps getting better in the Test format.

After Pakistan’s top-order made merry under excellent conditions, there was no way Babar Azam was going to miss out on the fun. The rising star received a vociferous ovation when he walked in to bat before he delighted the Karachi crowd with a supreme display.

With the hosts looking to pile up runs quickly for their declaration, Babar was in no mood to take his time in settling down. The 25-year-old was in punishing form as he raced away to a century in just 131 balls to bring the fans at the National Stadium on their feet.

It was Babar’s third Test ton in the last four matches and another glowing indictment to his growing prowess as a red-ball powerhouse.

The right-hander’s unbeaten knock of 100 meant that it was only the second time in history that each of the top four batsmen of a side had registered tons in the same innings. The only previous instance of such a prolific show by a side’s top-order had come in 2007 when India’s batsmen had put Bangladesh to the sword in the Dhaka Test.

Fernando undeterred but Sri Lanka are crumbling

Young Naseem Shah grabbed two wickets/

Young Naseem Shah grabbed three wickets.

A run-chase of 476 would have been the last thing on Sri Lanka’s mind when they came out to bat, with the question of surviving 153 overs being the more pertinent issue. In the end, it didn’t take too long for things to unravel for the visitors with the first wicket falling inside 10 overs of the chase.

While it was Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Abbas who caused them most damage in the first innings, it was young Naseem Shah who was their chief tormentor on Sunday. The teenage pacer had the dangerous Kusal Mendis caught at slips for a duck before he pinned Sri Lanka’s first innings top-scorer Dinesh Chandimal lbw for just two runs.

There was a wicket each for Afridi, Abbas and leg-spinner Yasir Shah as Sri Lanka quickly slid to 97-5.

To their credit, the islanders did not just fold over from that stage with opener Oshada Fernando undeterred by the collapse at the other end. Exhibiting a solid defence and some crisp boundaries, the 27-year-old brought up his maiden ton in his fourth Test appearance for the country.

Sri Lanka’s last hopes of pulling off a miracle on the final day rest on Fernando after Niroshan Dickwella’s counter-attacking half-century was ended by Haris Sohail in the closing stages.

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