Pakistan 191 (Shafiq 63, Babar 60, Kumara 4-49, Embuldeniya 4-71, Vishwa 2-31) and 555 for 3 dec (Abid 174, Masood 135, Azhar 118, Babar 100*, Kumara 2-139) need three wickets to beat Sri Lanka 271 (Chandimal 74, Afridi 5-77, Abbas 4-55) and 212 for 7 (Oshada 102, Naseem Shah 3-31)
If yesterday was the most magnificent day of Test cricket Pakistan have enjoyed this year, it was swiftly topped by the proceedings today. 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 and Babar Azam brought up their hundreds, this becoming only the second instance of the top four all getting to three-figures in Test cricket. Sri Lanka were set an academic 476 to win, Pakistan having amassed an eye-watering 555 for 3.
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If the centuries Abid and Masood compiled yesterday were essential, 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.
The half-century yesterday would have both calmed Azhar’s nerves and whetted his appetite. The rut he’s been in extends, in truth, to well beyond this recent patch, with the right-hander averaging a mere 25 since Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan retired in 2017. Three consecutive boundaries off Vishwa Fernando took him 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, having taken little over a session to get there.
More to follow…