The game of cricket hasn’t had the greatest week. Rain has been pouring in England and in Sri Lanka, between the bursts of unbearable heat. Camels would be better off playing cricket in the Sri Lankan heat, and it would probably make for more interesting viewing. Don’t get me wrong, I like to see a stylish century as much as anybody. But these draws in Colombo are getting a bit much aren’t they? Somewhere last week I had the feeling the Pakistani’s would lose their bottle. I was wrong.
Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s talismanic captain, must have been thinking along the same lines as me. He sent the Pakistani’s in to bat on a pitch that saw over 1300 runs scored on it in the first innings between Sri Lanka and India not too long ago. His plan backfired, as Pakistan amassed 551/6 declared. Hafeez and Ali made the Sri Lankan bowlers toil in the heat, the former narrowly missing out on a double century with 196 and the latter equalling his previous highest score with 157. Sri Lanka ensured the match would be a draw with Dilshan and Sangakkara getting centuries, Sanga narrowly missing out on yet another double, for the second time in a row. The Sri Lankan batting strangely collapsed after all the rain delays, with Junaid Khan picking up a 5-for.
With a 160-run lead, the Pakistani’s put 100 on the board before Misbah decided to declare, leaving the Sri Lankans with 37 overs to navigate for the draw. They did so easily, losing only two wickets, and ensuring that they could not lose the series. So the match essentially led to some Pakistani redemption and some Sri Lankan consolidation. The final test in Kandy will not be so easy for the batsmen, and could be quite an intriguing encounter.
Sri Lanka 19/10
Sri Lankan stroke-maker Kumar Sangakkara will be a happy man, as he once again sits atop the test batsman rankings. His innings in Colombo took him ahead of Shivnarine Chanderpaul, helping him to regain his throne. When Kumar is in form (and when he is in Sri Lanka), there are few better to watch with a cricket bat in hand. He has a pretty solid record in Kandy as well, and will be one to watch for a top scorer bet. One thing that will worry the Sri Lankans is the lack of runs for Mahela, and he will be looking to weigh in with a couple before the series is up.
In the bowling department, Sri Lanka had no luck against the dominant Pakistanis. Fair credit to them for toiling in the heat on a wicket that offered them absolutely nothing, but after sending the opposition into bat, you expect a bit more. Herath was again the man to cause the most trouble, proving himself again as a capable replacement for Murali. However, penetration was needed and none came.
After an embarrassing performance in the first test, Pakistan finally got it together under the watchful eye of Misbah. His presence seemed to add the necessary ingredient to the test team, and his powers as a captain (as his record suggests) are surely not up for argument anymore. Hafeez will also be pleased to score some runs again, his 194 being more than he had scored in his last 10 innings in all formats. Azhar Ali looked in great touch and his patience was, as they say, a virtue. However, will they be able to stand up in less friendly conditions? We will have to wait and see.
Junaid Khan’s fiery 5-for was the only glimmer of hope for the bowlers on the flat Colombo track. The surly left-armer channelled Wasim Akram and used every angle to his advantage. He formulated a plan of bowling around the wicket to the right-handers, using reverse swing to bamboozle the Sri Lankans and it paid off handsomely. He carried the attack in the absence of Umar Gul, and looks very promising for Pakistan’s pace bowling future.
Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy plays host to the final test, and it is only the third time this ground will host a test match. The two previous ones have been drawn, but both were heavily affected by rain. This pitch is definitely not the run merchant that is Colombo, and we are in for a more even contest between bat and ball. There seems to be a bit of rain around, but nothing too serious.
BEST: Top Sri Lankan Batsman, Kumar Sangakkara 5/2
There is no ignoring the way that Kumar is playing at the moment. In fact, he will be disappointed with his two scores in the 190’s, as it prevented him adding to his already staggering array of double centuries. He will be livid. And that is why he will top score on a ground he has had success on previously.
VERDICT: Pakistan 4/1
At this price, the Pakistani’s look irresistible. They completely outplayed the Sri Lankan for most of the previous test match, although the toss was pivotal in that. They look altogether a different team under Misbah, and the Sri Lankans have still not fixed all their problems. I foresee a drawn series here.