Sharjah: Sri Lanka remained ahead after another attritional day in the third Test in Sharjah, but not to the extent required if they are to be confident of squaring the series. They are now left hoping for another of the famous Pakistan collapses that gave them the series the last time these two sides faced off.
In the morning, a mix of old-school batting and innovation from Misbah-ul-Haq and butter-fingered fielding helped Pakistan frustrate Sri Lanka and cut into the first-innings deficit. After lunch, Sri Lanka needed quick runs to set up a declaration but, as in the rest of this match, the big hits proved elusive and the run-rate remained low. Some late Saeed Ajmal strikes even gave Pakistan an outside chance of winning the Test.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka were buoyed by some late blows, and perked up even more after striking twice early today. Chanaka Welegedara removed Abdur Rehman in the first over of the day, getting the batsman to nick to the slip cordon, where Mahela Jayawardene fumbled but the ball landed in Paranavitana's lap at first slip. Soon after, Umar Gul heaved a length ball to mid-off and Sri Lanka were eyeing an early end to the Pakistan innings.
That would have happened if wicketkeeper Kaushal Silva had held on to a regulation take after Misbah edged Rangana Herath early in the day. That was the easiest of the three lives Misbah had - Angelo Mathews flew goalkeeper-style at mid-off but couldn't latch on, and Tharanga Paranavitana put down a similarly difficult chance at square leg.
Misbah made the most of those opportunities. He may have scored at a rate deemed slow even by Test standards, but there were also several moves from him that wouldn't have been out of place in a limited-overs game: he kept shuffling around in his crease, especially against Herath, there was a reverse-sweep for four and a savage six over long-on.
He regularly declined singles to shield No. 10 Ajmal and, though there were some close lbw calls, the pair defied Sri Lanka for 18 precious overs - that didn't just reduce Sri Lanka's lead but ate into the time available to force a result. Misbah looked headed for his fourth Test century, but top-edged a slog-sweep off Suraj Randiv to fall for 89.The final pair couldn't last very long after that, with Welegedara removing Junaid Khan to wrap up the innings and complete his five-for.
Sri Lanka's reply got off to a horrible start as Tillakaratne Dilshan, the man most capable of providing them the early momentum, fell victim to Gul's knack of striking in the first over. Paranavitana, with only two half-centuries in his previous 15 innings, would have been dismissed by Gul for the fifth time in the series if Asad Shafiq had pouched a chance early on. He wasn't at ease against the spinners either, surviving several loud calls for lbw.
Kumar Sangakkara extended his excellent run in the series, becoming only the third Sri Lanka batsman to make 500 runs in a series, but he too began watchfully. It was only once the slow bowlers came on that he began to open up. Mohammad Hafeez was greeted with a lofted on-drive for four, before Sangakkara crashed sixes in successive overs to boost the dawdling run-rate. He completed a fluent half-century before his second soft dismissal of the match, chopping a short ball to the point fielder.
That dismissal prompted a bit more adventure from Paranavitana, who had crawled along to 30 off 111 deliveries, putting pressure on his partners. He slugged Ajmal over midwicket for six and followed that up with a glanced boundary as Sri Lanka had a productive six-over spell, going at nearly a run-a-ball.
Just as Sri Lanka seemed to finally be hitting the gear they needed to, Gul trapped Mahela Jayawardene lbw with an incutter. The conventional offbreak then brought Ajmal two wickets in an over - Angelo Mathews and Silva.
Paranavitana was unbeaten but has only the debutant Kosala Kulasekara and the tail for support, and Sri Lanka's lead is still not sufficiently enough to declare. Even if they manage a quick burst of runs on Monday and declare early, the pitch still isn't venomous enough for a bowling attack to run through a line-up in two-and-a-half sessions, especially one that is missing a specialist quick.