RAWALPINDI: Honours were just about even at the start of the landmark Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka as the visitors reached 202-5 after absorbing day’s play here at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Wednesday.
Winning the toss in overcast conditions in this opening match of the two-Test rubber and deciding to bat first was in hindsight a brave move by Dimuth Karunaratne, just as Pakistan opted to bank on an all-seam bowling armoury by dropping Yasir Shah. The absence of their primary spinner is something of a surprise because the pitch, despite having a nice sprinkling of light-coloured, may eventually end up getting slower and lower.
The prevailing chilly conditions and forecast of action likely to be disrupted — at least over the next two days — by rain on Thursday and Friday in addition to shortened daylight may decide the ultimate fate of this history-laden encounter which commenced with Test cricket finally making its presence in Pakistan after a prolonged absence of 10 years, nine months and eight days.
The occasion itself seemed surreal because generally domestic first-class matches are not staged in this region at this time of the year when winter begins to set in. And this is Test cricket, the highest form of the sport.
Predictably Sri Lanka chose to pick their XI containing a five-man bowling attack, featuring three frontline seamers. Apart from axing Yasir and Mohammad Musa Khan from side Pakistan that played in the day/night Adelaide Test against Australia, the hosts also left out Imam-ul-Haq and finally gave Abid Ali his maiden Test cap as a just reward for several excellent seasons on the domestic circuit.
With Abid to partner Shan Masood at the top of the order, Usman Khan Shinwari earned his first Test call-up in place of Yasir while Musa was replaced by another young pacer Nasim Shah.
Sri Lanka won the first session as Karunaratne and his latest opening partner Oshada Fernando went about setting a solid foundation when the lunch interval arrived with the tourists reaching 89 without loss after Karunaratne clipped the third ball of the match — delivered by Mohammad Abbas — rather nonchalantly to the midwicket boundary.
The captain hardly found anything normal in the surface and timed the Kookaburra ball to perfection whenever the width was offered to the experienced left-hander. Unsurprisingly, Karunaratne comfortably outscored the right-handed Fernando, who needed as many as 20 balls to open his account. Fernando, however, had the immense satisfaction of striking the solitary six of the innings thus far, when Haris Sohail was brought in for the last over before the 40-minute, when the penultimate delivery was effortlessly deposited over the mid-off fence.
But Pakistan found their bearings after the interval to grab four wickets for 48 runs as Sri Lanka got themselves strangulated by the accurate bowling. Shaheen Shah Afridi made the initial breakthrough when Karunaratne missed a flick to get himself trapped leg-before-wicket. England umpire Michael Gough made the right call but Karunaratne challenged it unsuccessfully. His stroke-filled 110-ball knock of 59 included nine boundaries.
Fernando made 40 from 81 balls (six fours) before Nasim induced him to edge a catch to Haris at first slip. Kusal Mendis spent 47 balls for his 10 runs when Shinwari slanted one across the right-hander to have his man caught behind by Mohammad Rizwan.
Playing his first Test since being axed as the national captain, Dinesh Chandimal’s comeback was very brief when Abbas produced an unplayable delivery to clip the off-stump to complete an impressive Pakistan comeback.
The post-tea period saw Angelo Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva engineer a rescue operation as the two added 62 in 91 minutes. And as it seemed Sri Lanka were on the road to recovery, Nasim claimed his second wicket by having Mathews (31 off 77 balls, four fours) nicely held by Asad Shafiq at second slip. De Silva (38 off 77, six boundaries) and Niroshan Dickwella (11) survived until Michael Gough and Richard Kettleborough decided to take the players off at 4:14pm with 21.5 overs still left in the day.
Karunaratne later admitted Sri Lanka would aim for a total in the vicinity of 300 at least to put Pakistan under pressure on day two.
“We will try to get 300 because we need a good total to give our bowlers a chance. But having said that we didn’t capitalise on the excellent start upfront,” the Sri Lankan skipper told reporters. “However, with Dhananjaya and Angie [Mathews] pulled it back for us a little bit but the loss of Mathews upset our plans. There are also signs that the pitch will dry out quickly because of the lights being switched on for lengthy hours.
“But when it gets dark, though, it is a big advantage for fast bowlers if we’re playing under lights. It can swing a little under lights as well, and we saw a bit of that from the Pakistan bowlers. I thought they bowled really well after lunch to put us on the back foot.
“But we can’t give excuses for not converting the good starts into big scores. We need to be converting those scores if we want to win a Test. Everyone, including me, has to make sure we don’t let go once we get those starts, in the next innings if we can.”
Meanwhile, Nasim hailed the sizeable turnout of around 8,000 spectators and termed their support as a big boost for the host team.
“It was great to be playing [in a Test match] in front of our people after so many years. For me, the feeling was thrilling because this is just my second Test,’ the teenager told reporters after stumps. “The momentum is certainly with Pakistan at this stage and we are able to take the remaining wickets quickly then it would be a big bonus for the team.
“The pitch had moisture in the morning but the way we came back was brilliant. The credit goes to the crowd for lifting our game as the day went by,” Nasim, who had figures of 2-51 from 16 overs, added.
SRI LANKA (1st Innings):
D. Karunaratne lbw b Shaheen 59
O. Fernando c Haris b Nasim 40
K. Mendis c Rizwan b Shinwari 10
A. Mathews c Asad b Nasim 31
D. Chandimal b Abbas 2
D. de Silva not out 38
N. Dickwella not out 11
EXTRAS (B-5, LB-3, NB-3) 11
TOTAL (for five wkts, 68.1 overs ) 202
STILL TO BAT: D. Perera, V. Fernando, K. Rajitha, L. Kumara
FALL OF WKTS: 1-96, 2-109, 3-120, 4-127, 5-189
BOWLING (to-date): Abbas 20.1-7-50-1; Shaheen 16-6-37-1 (3nb); Shinwari
14-4-47-1; Nasim 16-4-51-2; Haris 1-0-9-0; Shan 1-1-0-0
PAKISTAN: Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Rizwan, Usman Shinwari, Mohammad Abbas, Naseem Shah, Shaheen Shah Afridi
UMPIRES: Richard Kettleborough and Michael Gough (both England)
TV UMPIRE: Richard Illingworth (England)
MATCH REFEREE: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe)
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2019