Abu Dhabi: Five dropped catches and four wickets summed up a profligate day for Pakistan on which their bowlers toiled to create numerous chances only for their fielders - led by Mohammad Hafeez - to spill them. Kumar Sangakkara's fighting century was the only positive for Sri Lanka, and his continued presence their only hope of somehow saving the match.
The bowlers created pressure and some inevitable panic but Sri Lanka emerged relatively unscathed, with Sangakkara and Pakistan's fielders taking the match into a fifth day. After four catches had gone down during a 153-run second-wicket partnership that was beginning to hurt Pakistan, they were given an opening via Lahiru Thirimanne's suicidal attempt at a second run. Thirimanne and Sangakkara had survived for more than 50 overs; Sri Lanka now lost three batsmen in little over ten, before an astonishing fifth let-off kept them afloat.
Saeed Ajmal and Junaid Khan, who had both been denied by the slippery hands of Hafeez, took the fielders out of the equation, bowling Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan respectively for single-digit scores. An inside edge off an attempted cut against an offbreak accounted for Jayawardene while Dilshan drove loosely at one that sneaked into the gap between bat and pad.
It was a characteristic burst from Pakistan after a typical period of frenzy before lunch when their fielding fell apart in a rush of squandered catches. It allowed Thirimanne and Sangakkara to survive a testing first session as the bowlers were let down three times by Hafeez, including twice off successive deliveries from Junaid.
On a pitch that did not yield much even on the fourth day, the bowlers gave Sri Lanka a hard time, producing false shots, going past the outside edge and hitting the pads, without fortune favouring them. The batsmen countered in their own ways, Thirimanne using the sweep to ward off Ajmal, Sangakkara playing straight, and nudging and cutting when the opportunities came.
Junaid produced the first real chance off the last ball of the 27th over when he induced Thirimanne to edge an attempted drive. It went low at first slip to Hafeez who grabbed at the ball and grassed it. Hafeez was to deny Junaid and reprieve Thirimanne again, off the very next delivery. If anything, this one was far easier. Thirimanne had another escape as lunch approached, when he cut Ajmal straight to the gully fielder, who backed away and was hit on the body. It was Hafeez yet again.
Junaid was to suffer a third time when Younis Khan was unsure whether he had taken Sangakkara's edge cleanly after diving forward at second slip. Younis let off Sangakkara once again before lunch on 56, dropping a tough diving chance at slip off, ironically, Hafeez.
Thirimanne could not capitalise on the good fortune but Sangakkara continued to resist, even as wickets fell. He used the abundant short deliveries to cut and steer for boundaries on the off side and kept nudging and clipping for runs on the leg. Pakistan kept feeding his strengths throughout the day. Sangakkara looted 81 off 42 deliveries square on the off side and another 51 off 33 square on the leg. Yet another cut shot to the point boundary off Junaid earned him his 11th second-innings Test century, off 173 deliveries.
Angelo Mathews could not reprise his first-innings salvage effort, though. Umar Gul - who hadn't bowled after sending down four overs in the morning - trapped him leg-before off the first delivery with the second new ball, after having got Tharanga Paranavitana on Thursday right away with the first.
Almost inevitably, Pakistan's fielding soon came to haunt them again as substitute fielder Wahab Riaz put down a mistimed pull by Prasanna Jayawardene off a disgusted Gul. He was also fortunate to get away with a close leg-before shout against Junaid but by the end, had frustrated Pakistan alongwith Sangakkara for 125 deliveries.
With Sangakkara's effort beginning to rival Taufeeq Umar's first-innings marathon in immoveability, Pakistan have no one to blame but themselves for what could have been.