ABU DHABI: Rangana Herath was the usual suspect as Sri Lanka ran through Pakistan to claim a memorable 21-run win on the final day of the first match in the two-Test series between the two sides.
The Abu Dhabi pitch had been docile enough for the first three days to go by without much action but the match exploded into life in the final two games as both sides struggled to cope with the spinners.
Herath starred with the ball in both innings, ending with match figures of 11-136 to claim the man of the match award as Pakistan set a new unwanted record of their lowest unachieved target.
There had been calls for the new boys to step up to the plate ever since Messrs Misbahul Haq and Younus Khan called it a day and the duo were sorely missed as Pakistan were skittled over for just 114, chasing what had seemed a very gettable target of 136.
The win means skipper Sarfraz Ahmed’s Test captaincy got off to the worst possible start and Pakistan would now need to win the second match in Dubai if they are to further extend their unbeaten home streak; currently the longest in the world.
What would irk Sarfraz and head coach Mickey Arthur the most would be the lack of fight shown at the top of the innings, with Pakistan falling to 16-3 and 36-5. The defeat further calls in question the omission of Fawad Alam but the man chosen above him, Haris Sohail, was the top-scorer with 34 runs as only three Pakistan batsmen managed to reach double figures.
Haris’s partnership with Sarfraz threatened to drag Pakistan over the line but the skipper’s decision to come dancing down the track to Herath took away what little chance Pakistan had of claiming a win that they had seemed to be on track for going into the final two sessions of the day.
Despite the defeat, former chief selector Sallahuddin Sallu feels there are still positives to take from the game. “Muhammad Abbas and Yasir Shah bowled brilliantly in both innings,” he said. “Their wickets kept Pakistan in the game. Even Haris’s part-time bowling was impressive.”
Sallu believes poor catching was once again Pakistan’s bane, especially off the bowling of Muhammad Amir.
“This needs to be fixed, otherwise they will be unable to put any pressure on the other team,” he said. “The batsmen showed in the first innings that they are capable of playing at this level.”
Meanwhile, former Test cricketer Yasir Hameed was left impressed with the performance of the Sri Lankan side. “They bowled smartly and were always one step ahead of the batsmen,” he said. “The way they bowled in the second innings was all about building pressure, even the way they appealed so vociferously every time would have unnerved the batsmen.”
Yasir Shah felt the batsmen let themselves down in the second innings. “Our players didn’t have the right shot selection,” he said. “They knew how tough Herath is to face but still they played all the wrong shots.”