Pak­istan on course for vic­tory

Azhar and Azam ham­mer tons; Shah claims three as Sri Lanka stum­bles

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Karachi, Pak­istan - If Satur­day was the most mag­nif­i­cent day of Test cricket Pak­istan have en­joyed this year, it was swiftly topped by the pro­ceed­ings on Sun­day.

All the while Abid Ali and Shan Ma­sood piled up that record part­ner­ship and Azhar Ali got in amongst the runs on Satur­day, there re­mained the nag­ging doubt the pitch was so docile it would be dif­fi­cult for Pak­istan's bowlers to force a re­sult.

But in front of a Sun­day crowd that was the big­gest of the se­ries, Pak­istan rub­ber-stamped that bat­ting dom­i­nance with con­trol in the field, too, and de­spite a 100-run stand that Pak­istan only breached in the fi­nal half hour, the hosts are just three wick­ets away from what looks a rou­tine win.

It didn't mean there were no hero­ics with the bat, though; Azhar (118) and Babar Azam (100 n.o.) brought up their hun­dreds, this be­com­ing only the sec­ond in­stance of the top four all get­ting to three-fig­ures in Test cricket. Sri Lanka was set an aca­demic 476 to win, Pak­istan hav­ing amassed an eye-wa­ter­ing 555 for three.

Azhar and Babar's of­fer­ings were sim­ply joy­ous. There was no score­board pres­sure; with Sri Lanka's bowlers ren­dered tooth­less, the only ques­tion was when Pak­istan would put the vis­i­tors back in to bat.

Azhar would end a drought of over a year with­out a hun­dred, and hav­ing been re­cently handed the cap­taincy, he will know how piv­otal it may prove to ex­tend­ing his ten­ure. Three con­sec­u­tive bound­aries off Vishwa Fer­nando took Azhar to within two runs of three-fig­ures, and when a cut off La­sith Em­buldeniya fi­nally got him over the line, the ra­di­ant glow on Azhar's face spoke vol­umes of the im­por­tance he placed on the in­nings.

He would lock Babar into a tight em­brace, Pak­istan's Test cap­tain and vice-cap­tain cel­e­brat­ing a part­ner­ship that well and truly took the game out of Sri Lanka's reach.

It wasn't so much the stand be­tween the two as the rate the runs came that al­lowed Pak­istan to bring their dec­la­ra­tion for­ward. Babar was chiefly re­spon­si­ble for that, and once he'd had an lbw call over­turned early on, and then trot­ting to a half-cen­tury, he would spare no bowler from an on­slaught that saw him rac­ing to­wards three-fig­ures him­self.

Ninety-five came off the first 19 overs be­fore drinks were taken, and when Azhar was stumped danc­ing down the crease and miss­ing the line, Babar would only press down on the ac­cel­er­a­tor harder.

Lahiru Ku­mara was tonked for three fours in an over, and as the lead crossed 450, it ap­peared Babar's hun­dred was the only thing keep­ing Pak­istan from call­ing the bats­men back in. It was a mat­ter of time, and very lit­tle time at that. In the fi­nal over be­fore lunch, he would cut one away to point and bring up his third cen­tury in four Test matches.

When Sri Lanka bat­ted, the pitch sud­denly didn't look as flat any­more. Af­ter a solid first 45 min­utes, the vis­i­tors lost two wick­ets in quick suc­ces­sion.

Cap­tain Dimuth Karunaratn­e nicked off to Mo­ham­mad Ab­bas with Mo­ham­mad Rizwan tak­ing an ex­cel­lent catch.

The next over, Mendis edged one for Babar at third slip to gob­ble it up. And when An­gelo Mathews nicked off to Sha­heen Shah Afridi, Sri Lanka were star­ing down the pos­si­bil­ity of the game end­ing with a full day to spare.

What will hearten Pak­istan is the vastly im­proved show­ing from Naseem Shah.

Naseem thought he had Oshada Fer­nando's wicket be­fore re­plays showed there was a thin in­side-edge, but DRS would come to his aid the next over, when the um­pire turned down a close lbw shout that was re­vealed to be smash­ing into Di­nesh Chandi­mal's mid­dle stump. When Yasir Shah had Dhanan­jaya de Silva chop on off a straighter one, Sri Lanka had lost half their side with only 97 on the board.

In what has been a dis­as­trous two days for Sri Lanka, Oshada's un­beaten 102 stands out as a bright spot that may con­tinue to ben­e­fit the vis­i­tors un­til af­ter this tour is done.

Niroshan Dick­wella was the only one to give him solid sup­port, his half-cen­tury com­ing in an en­ter­tain­ing part­ner­ship where the left-han­der re­peat­edly took on an out-of-form Yasir with the re­verse sweep, com­ing out on top each time.

It was only when, iron­i­cally enough, Dick­wella tried the re­verse sweep on Haris So­hail, Pak­istan's part-time left-arm spin­ner, that the shot let him down, with the ball clat­ter­ing into his stumps. Naseem would add Dil­ruwan Per­era to the con­tin­gent al­ready in the pavil­ion. Although the play­ers will have to come out to­mor­row, make no mis­take, this game, and Sri Lanka, are done and dusted.

Azhar Ali

Babar Azam

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