HomeSports NewsRecent Match Report - Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 1st Test 2023

Recent Match Report – Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 1st Test 2023

Stumps Pakistan 221 for 5 (Shakeel 69*, Agha 61*, Jayasuriya 3-83) trail Sri Lanka 312 (Dhananjaya 122, Mathews 64, Abrar 3-68, Afridi 3-86, Naseem 3-90) by 91 runs

A see-sawing day ended with Pakistan wresting back the momentum from Sri Lanka thanks to a counter-attacking partnership between Saud Shakeel and Agha Salman. Half-centuries for the two in an unbeaten stand of 120 means Pakistan are now just 91 runs behind Sri Lanka’s first-innings total of 312, and might well have made a deeper dent into that deficit if monsoon rains hadn’t brought the day to a premature close.

But it was more the speed of the run-scoring than the accumulation which impressed. Across 38 overs, Pakistan scored at just a tick under five, spearheaded initially by Shan Masood. But Agha and Shakeel, traditionally much more conservative in their approach in international cricket, took the baton and ran with it in a frenetic final hour that saw all of Sri Lanka’s bowlers put to the sword as Pakistan stormed back into the contest.

Finding themselves five wickets down with a deficit greater than 200 and Nauman Ali to come in next, most Pakistan sides would have gone into their shell. But instead of waiting for Prabath Jayasuriya or Ramesh Mendis to invariably find a ball that breached their defences, the pair began to exploit gaps, rotate the strike, use their feet and find the boundary. Shakeel’s drive over Jayasuriya’s head early on was a statement of intent and a couple of slogs over cow corner from Agha forced Sri Lanka’s best bowler out of the attack. Both players brought up fifties, and as the runs continued to flow, Sri Lanka appeared to run out of ideas, turning to Kasun Rajitha’s pace.

The middle session had moved the game along more than the entirety of the first day, with Sri Lanka’s spinners demonstrating clear superiority over their counterparts in these conditions. Jayasuriya’s three wickets put Sri Lanka on top even as Pakistan took the attack to the bowlers. Masood’s 30-ball 39 epitomised that approach as Pakistan moved along at 4.71 runs per over, though it did come with the loss of half the side.

Abdullah Shafique survived an exceptionally close lbw shout in the first over before Imam-ul-Haq fell playing a rash cover drive in the second, spooning it into backward point’s lap. Masood’s arrival heralded the start of the only passage in that phase where Pakistan were dominant. Picking up from an impressive display in the two-day warm-up game in Hambantota, Masood continued in the same fashion. He was adept at carving the ball through the covers, exploiting gaps and getting the run rate ticking.

His approach against the quicks necessitated Sri Lanka turning to Jayasuriya as early as in the ninth over, and Masood showed him enough respect to play out a maiden. Ramesh was not afforded the same regard, Masood saving the shot of the innings so far for him, dancing down the track to clobber him over mid-on for a colossal six to get to 39. The very next delivery, though, had him pinned back on leg stump. The umpire didn’t raise the finger but Sri Lanka reviewed, and Hawkeye flashed up three reds, sending a disbelieving Shan on his way.

By now, Jayasuriya had already begun to work his magic, sending Shafique on his way with a hint of extra turn. It would get better for Sri Lanka, when Babar Azam top-edged an arm ball straight up to the keeper, exposing Sarfaraz Ahmed and an inexperienced lower-middle order with Pakistan still 239 runs behind.

Mastery against spin is considered one of Sarfaraz’s strengths, but a sweep too many off Jayasuriya found him struck adjacent enough to be given out lbw in the last half-hour before tea. It left the two new men in Pakistan’s middle order, Agha and Shakeel, to hold Sri Lanka’s relentless spinners off.

In the morning, Pakistan bowled Sri Lanka out for 312, but not before Sri Lanka had added a useful 70 runs with the last four wickets.

Over the course of a slightly scrappy morning session, Dhananjaya de Silva stood out. Having been unbeaten overnight on 94, he was in no rush to snatch at the three-figure mark, taking about half an hour to get to the mark with a whip towards fine leg. Alongside Ramesh, who was offering doggedness but not many runs, de Silva prioritised survival over quick run-scoring. It was an arrangement Pakistan were content with as the spinners operated on autopilot while they awaited the new ball, and a slash from Ramesh off Abrar Ahmed soon brought the gritty partnership to an end.

Babar called up Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah for an extended spell with the new ball. Afridi’s pace was up and he found more movement, but it was Naseem who ended up in the wickets, dispatching Jayasuriya with a short delivery the tailender got a feather to. And when de Silva decided it was time to up the ante, he fell as soon as he played an attacking shot, a mistimed drive over backward point caught brilliantly by a scampering Masood. By now, though, he had scored 122, rescuing an innings that badly needed salvaging after the first session yesterday.

Sri Lanka’s Nos. 10 and 11 held Pakistan off much longer than anticipated, though, and scored runs while doing it. Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando added 29 runs for that last wicket, ensuring Sri Lanka crossed 300, and perhaps edging the session in their favour.

That dominance looked to have been underscored firmly through the afternoon, but Pakistan’s late onslaught means the Test remains finely balanced under Galle’s mercurial skies.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

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