Sri Lanka squandered away what seemed to be an inviting proposition in the morning - being put in to bat on a flat wicket under the hot sun against inexperienced bowlers - by refusing to score, and ultimately succumbed against a relentless Pakistan attack.
Angelo Mathews, however, batted intelligently with the lower order, as he had done during the recent series against Australia, to lift Sri Lanka from the lows of 114 for 7 before Junaid Khan's maiden Test five-for kept them to a first-innings tally of 197.
Pakistan's bowlers were nearly sold short at the toss by their captain who thought that any chance of taking wickets lay in utilising the scant moisture on a flat and deceptively green-tinged pitch. With a large heart and perseverance, though, they prised out six wickets in the second session after Lahiru Thirimanne's guide to slip off Saeed Ajmal gave them an opening at the stroke of lunch.
Aizaz Cheema epitomised Pakistan's hunger with a relentless spell, either side of the break, that claimed Kumar Sangakkara cheaply and troubled Mahela Jayawardene with consistent pace and zip off the placid surface. Jayawardene managed to survive Cheema's spell but soon joined Tillakaratne Dilshan in the dressing room. Dilshan had earlier briefly breathed life into the doddering innings, before being wrongly adjudged caught-behind by umpire Tony Hill, as Sri Lanka slipped to 112 for 4.
Jayawardene went in the next over, prodding at Junaid outside off stump and edging to slip. Junaid capitalised on the panic in the line-up to claim Prasanna Jayawardene and Rangana Herath with searing full deliveries to reduce Sri Lanka to 114 for 4, but the fight had gone out of the Sri Lanka innings some time ago.
Cheema, 32, displayed the tireless zeal of a player made to wait almost ten years for his Test debut. He even hit Jayawardene on the helmet grill when the batsman failed to get out of the way of a short one. Cheema's aggression was in contrast to the way Thirimanne and Tharanga Paranavitana added 26 runs in the first hour, treating the benign Sheikh Zayed Stadium surface with the extreme respect that an overcast Headingley morning would deserve.
Though the three Pakistan fast bowlers, Gul, Cheema and Junaid - chosen ahead of the quicker and more experienced Wahab Riaz - ran in with heart, they were rendered ineffective in the first session by the lifeless pitch.
The openers' approach, however, bordered on the extreme of being over-cautious. The first boundary came in the 14th over from Paranavitana off the part-time offspin of Mohammad Hafeez. Having played sedately all morning, Thirimanne guided Ajmal straight to slip in the penultimate over before lunch. Sri Lanka had managed only 50 runs in the session.
Cheema struck with the first ball of the second over after lunch, getting Sangakkara to edge behind for Adnan Akmal to take a flying one-handed catch in front of first slip. Paranavitana contrived to survive longer with his defensive mindset but the manner of his dismissal - gloving an attempted pull to the wicketkeeper off a Gul short ball down the leg side - showed that patience without purpose inevitably comes unstuck against sustained pressure.
Just as Pakistan had used Sri Lanka's diffidence to spark a collapse, Mathews took advantage of Misbah's listless field-settings to add 54 - the highest partnership of the innings - with Suranga Lakmal. Mathews did everything that the earlier batsmen had not - he did not get tied down and attacked when allowed to, shielding Lakmal initially and taking advantage of the spread-out fields. Misbah helped Mathews by repeatedly keeping the field back even for the final two deliveries of the overs. On the rare occasions when he brought them in, Mathews went after the bowling, slicing and punching Cheema for consecutive boundaries off the final two balls of the 61st over.
Pakistan eventually got through the tail when Junaid cleaned up the last two wickets to end with 5 for 38, and set up the game for the Pakistan batsmen.
The new ball had not done much for Pakistan; Sri Lanka's bowlers did not fare better, if anything, they did not make the Pakistan openers play enough. Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar were hardly troubled in breezing to 27 by stumps, capping a dominant day for their side.