Abu Dhabi: The painstaking efforts of Pakistan's top order put their side in control against a helpless Sri Lanka attack which was taken apart remorselessly session-by-session on an unresponsive surface - first by the positivity of Mohammad Hafeez and then by the self-denial and accumulation of Taufeeq Umar and Azhar Ali.
After Hafeez had batted with purpose in a productive morning session, Taufeeq and Azhar stonewalled at under two runs an over till tea before displaying some urgency in the final session to leave Sri Lanka deflated in the Abu Dhabi heat. Taufeeq played second fiddle to Hafeez, blocked half-volleys after lunch along with Azhar Ali and displayed refreshing freedom after tea to reach his second century in three Tests. Azhar, bordering on the over-cautious mostly, continued to display the solidity that has marked his short career with another half-century in a partnership which grew steadily to 141 by the end of the day.
Nothing worked for Sri Lanka after their batsmen had collapsed on Wednesday. Mahela Jayawardene - one of the safest slip fielders around - failed to hold on to the only real chance that Pakistan gave during the day. Azhar, on 7, edged Rangana Herath towards slip but Jayawardene could not grasp the ball as it died in front of him. Umpire Tony Hill failed to spot a clear inside edge off Taufeeq's bat into the wicketkeeper's gloves when he was on 102.
The tone was set by Hafeez in the first over of the day bowled by Chanaka Welegedara which went for 10. Sri Lanka would have wanted more from their seamers in the morning, but an in-form Hafeez proved hard to crack on the flat pitch. The heat also restricted the length and effectiveness of the seamers' spells; only Herath consistently troubled the batsmen with clever use of flight and variations, something not reflected in his marathon figures of 33-9-53-1 for the day. Herath beat Hafeez with flight and turn off his third delivery and would have sneaked a carrom ball through him but for a late inside edge.
Hafeez targeted the seamers and eventually broke free against Herath to loft him for a straight six before being trapped in front with an arm ball. Pakistan stalled inexplicably after Hafeez's departure, defending everything, even half-volleys, and refusing to take charge of a second session they should have dominated. They should have taken the lead before tea but with Azhar remaining stuck on 7 for 43 deliveries at one stage, they scraped 59 runs in 30 overs in the second session.
They seemed to have woken up at the stroke of tea, though, with Azhar taking Suranga Lakmal for consecutive fours. Taufeeq, on 65 off 200 deliveries, came out a changed batsman after tea. He took 35 off the next 59 to reach his century with two boundaries and a tuck off Lakmal in the 86th over. The shop was shut for the day after the landmark was reached, with only nine off the final 37 deliveries. Pakistan still collected 85 off 31 overs in the last session, finally attempting to rub it in when they could. The second new ball came and went, almost unnoticed.
At no stage during their partnership were they pretty to watch, but Taufeeq and Azhar will rightly point to the scoreboard, and to Pakistan's position, to show that it was worth the grind.