Dubai: On a pitch that seemed to have roughed up and become vicious, Sri Lanka came out of a testing session-and-a-half with the loss of just one wicket after they had fallen behind by 164 in the first innings. The 45 overs of Sri Lanka's innings was edgy stuff with almost every ball from the spinners misbehaving. It was one of those spells of play where it was just a matter of time when the one with your name came about. Tharanga Paranavitana and Kumar Sangakkara, left-hand batsmen both, kept trying their best to negate the rough outside their off-stumps, and were yet to meet the one with their name on it.
In comparison the first half of the day, important in its own right, seemed to be on sedatives. The ball hardly did anything for Sri Lanka except for the manageable reverse for Dhammika Prasad, and despite the early loss of Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and Adnan Akmal Pakistan built up towards a crucial lead. Shafiq showed he had learned his lesson from the first-Test go-slow, and batted purposefully along with Akmal.
Before Shafiq and Akmal, the day's play was definitely a morning walk. Misbah's early dismissal and the presence of a nightwatchman left Pakistan crawling as 11 runs came in the first half hour, including four byes, and 18 in the next half. Around this time Angelo Mathews at gully accepted a second offering from Ajmal, after which Shafiq and Akmal got busy.
Even as Chanaka Welegedara strung together a tight spell, Shafiq welcomed Suranga Lakmal with a pull and Rangana Herath with a six over long-on. At the opposite end, Akmal drove Welegedara for back-to-back boundaries either side of cover. The shots were played slightly away from the body and on the up. If you had just tuned in, you could tell his last name just from those two drives. Shafiq joined in the fun with a fore-handed four through covers to make it 14 off that over. Welegedara had bowled his previous eight for 15.
After that over it was down to accumulating almost in ODI-style, the absence of which they were criticised for in the first Test. The lunch break broke the flow a bit, and when Shafiq tried to use Prasad's pace he ended up steering straight to gully. After that the innings lost direction. The wickets kept falling, and Akmal didn't try a single big shot. When Tillakaratne Dilshan took the last wicket, he ended a period of nine runs in 11 overs.
Dilshan chose to play no further part in the day's play barring a top-order collapse. The beleaguered regulation openers came out to face the music. The first ball from Umar Gul shaped to swing into the left-hand Paranavitana, and then seamed away, just missing the edge. That set the template for the rest of Paranivatana's effort. He kept playing and missing, but he didn't play any release shot. If he got beaten in the flight, he somehow managed to avoid the edge; the bat-pads didn't make it to the fielders; and even when he ran poorly he somehow survived.
When Misbah introduced Mohammad Hafeez as early as the sixth over, it seemed inexplicable. The fast bowlers had given him good starts almost every time, they were causing trouble now too, and Junaid Khan wasn't injured either. Soon, though, the ball started turning and kicking. Abdur Rehman joined him from the other end. They kept firing the ball in the rough, the orthodox flighted delivery became a change-up. Hafeez soon bowled one with Lahiru Thirimanne's name on it: a flat off-break that pitched in the middle and took off, past a forward-defensive from the batsman.
For 31.5 following overs, Sangakkara and Paranavitana had to face a similar test of variable turn and bounce. As the turn kept missing the edge, or the odd big explosion beat the keeper too with the batsman stranded, you could see Pakistan begin to feel edgy too. They have to bat last on this pitch, although it can be argued the Sri Lankan bowlers don't boast similar pedigree.
There were occasions when Pakistan came even closer. In the 20th over, with the score on 35, Pakistan thought they had Sangakkara caught down the leg side. The replays seemed inconclusive after the umpire had ruled in the batsman's favour. Four overs later there was no debate on the edge, but it didn't carry to gully. Paranavitana benefitted from the absence of short leg, forward first and backward on a later occasion. In the 32nd over he was caught ball-watching as Misbah dived at cover-point. The throw from substitute Shoaib Malik, though, came in wide. Still, if an anxious Ajmal had collected it Paranavitana would have been caught short.
"To survive, per chance to score" remained the policy until the faster bowlers came back. Between them the three spinners bowled 32 overs for 52 runs. An exceptionally testing spell of 10 overs in the middle of the final session brought just eight runs. Still the batsmen refused to play rash shots, and came back to fight on the fourth day.