Sharjah: On a painful day for Pakistan off the field with three of their players getting jail terms for their involvement in spot-fixing, Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan made it a tough day for them on the field as well as Sri Lanka reached 245 for 2. On a track where the bowlers had little help, Sri Lanka turned in the sort of performance they needed to stand a chance of leveling this series.
The two batsmen who starred were in contrasting form coming into this match: Dilshan had only one half-century in his previous five Tests, while Sangakkara had three half-centuries and a 211 in seven previous innings. Dilshan's career took off when he became an opener a few years ago, and he rediscovered his touch today on returning to the top of the order after a brief, fruitless dalliance in the middle order.
It didn't seem like such a dominant day was on the cards for Sri Lanka after the first over of the day from Umar Gul. He got the ball to swerve around early on, beating Tharanga Paranavitana with his first delivery, before the batsman was reprieved three balls later at short leg. That didn't hurt Pakistan, though, as Gul got the next delivery to bend sharply away from Paranavitana, who could only nick it to second slip. Two overs later, Sangakkara was nearly run out after a miscommunication with Dilshan.
After those initial jitters though, the Sri Lankan batsmen started to take charge. Sangakkara opened out with a typically graceful cover drive in the fourth over before Dilshan got going with a couple of cracking drives for four when Gul pitched it up in the seventh over.
With only two quick bowlers in the side, Pakistan had to resort to long spells of spin, and the slow bowlers had only a little assistance on the first day track. Saeed Ajmal was lofted over his head by Sangakkara in his only over before lunch, while Abdur Rehman was punched in front of point for a boundary by Dilshan.
Sangakkara reached the milestone of 9000 Test runs in the morning, and had little trouble during another easy-on-the-eye innings. He had a life when on 68, when he was tricked by Saeed Ajmal after the batsman charged down the track; there was a thick edge which was very difficult for wicketkeeper Adnan Akmal to collect.
Akmal did hang on to a similarly difficult chance in the final over before lunch but that too did not result in a wicket as the umpire Shavir Tarapore didn't realise that the Gul bouncer had flown off Dilshan's gloves.
Both batsmen were more aggressive in the second session. A combination of poor bowling and aggressive intent resulted in a bunch of boundaries soon after the break, the highlight of which was Sangakkara's slog-swept six off Rehman. Dilshan showed how confident he was by pulling Junaid Khan for six midway through the session, taking on the man at deep square leg.
Sitting at a strong 170 for 1 at tea, with 36 more overs remaining in the day and the pitch proving harmless, Sri Lanka were expected to step the run rate up even more in the final session, but the Pakistan spinners choked off the runs allowing only seven runs in six overs. That slowed down Dilshan's advance towards his first century since his broken-finger epic at Lord's, and the wait for a triple-figure score was extended as an Ajmal doosra ended up as a catch to first slip.
That brought together Sri Lanka's two greatest run accumulators but even Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene couldn't force the pace, with an early spell yielding only 11 off nine overs. That stranglehold was ended stylishly as Sangakkara eased three boundaries in a Junaid Khan over to race to 98. The 27th Test century came up soon after as Sangakkara launched Rehman over deep midwicket for a massive six.
Jayawardene then survived a close call for lbw off Ajmal - the ball might have gone over the stumps - before Pakistan tested the batsmen with the second new ball, getting it to jag around. Sri Lanka survived those overs, though, which means their most experienced pair will be looking to heap more pain on Pakistan on Friday.