KARACHI        -         Pakistan’s bowlers claimed five Sri Lankan wickets within 100 runs in the second innings, before running into a gritty sixth-wicket stand, but two quick wickets in the closing moments of day four has put them on verge of a series-clinching win.

Opener Oshada Fernando (102*) and No.7 Niroshan Dickwella (65) put on a 104-run partnership, defying Pakistan for the most part of the final session and clawing to some extent towards the 476-run target. However, Pakistan returned to claim clear advantage with Dickwella’s wicket with just over five overs left in the day, and Dilruwan Perera’s scalp off the final ball.

Earlier, the day began with Pakistan on 359/2, built primarily on the mammoth opening stand worth 278 runs between Shan Masood and Abid Ali. The charge continued with Azhar Ali and Babar Azam posting commanding centuries; it became only the second instance in Test cricket, that the top four batsmen had notched tons in the same innings. Azhar Ali and Babar Azam dominated the morning session to keep the Lankan bowlers at bay. Azhar finally came to form with his first Test century since December 2018: between then, and today, he had managed a highest score of 39 in 13 innings. Babar, at the other end, looked in great nick, slamming an unbeaten, exact 100 in less than three hours, taking 131 balls.

The two took Pakistan from 400 to 500 in less than 20 overs, hardly bothered by the five bowlers Sri Lanka employed on a track that did not deteriorate as much as it would have been expected on the fourth day. The visitors found a belated wicket off the first ball of the 123rd over, when Azhar Ali became Lasith Embelduniya’s first scalp in 47 overs. Less than 8 overs later, Pakistan declared on 555/3 at lunch, leaving Sri Lanka with 476 runs to chase in five sessions.

Oshada Fernando got going with two back-to-back boundaries off Shaheen Afridi, but Pakistan snared two wickets in six balls with Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis falling to thick edges. Fernando, in the company of Angelo Mathews, steadied the innings to take them to 70/2 at the end of 20 overs, but Afridi removed Mathews before tea, leaving Sri Lanka with a mountain to climb. Dinesh Chandimal and Dhananjaya de Silva departed in successive overs to intensify the slide further, with the score reading 97/5 after 32 overs. It was then that Niroshan Dickwella brought a breath of fresh air in the innings with his off-side punches, and his reverse sweeps to the spinners.

Along with Fernando, Dickwella stitched a 100-run stand, but just when it looked like the Lankans had put forth a strong resistance, Dickwella was bowled, trying a cheeky reverse sweep against the run of play. It did not stop Fernando from notching his first Test hundred, but he ran further out of partners when Dilruwan Perera also edged one off Naseem Shah, of what turned out to be the final delivery of the day, with the tourists still 264 runs adrift.

 

2Instances of the top-four batsmen scoring hundreds in a Test innings. Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Azhar Ali and Babar Azam all got their milestones against Sri Lanka in the second Test in Karachi. The only previous instance of this was in 2007, when India's top four - Dinesh Karthik, Wasim Jaffer, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar - scored centuries against Bangladesh in the first innings of the Mirpur Test. This, though, was the first such instance of it in a second innings, where there have only been four previous instances of three centurions among the top-four batsmen.

503Runs added by Pakistan's first three wickets, which is Pakistan's fourth-highest in a Test innings. Their highest is also against Sri Lanka - 555 - in Faisalabad in 1985, when Qasim Umar and Javed Miandad both got double-hundreds and added 397 for the third wicket. The three higher aggregates were all in the team's first innings, though; in the second innings, there are only two instances of any team adding more runs for the first three wickets. The highest is also against Sri Lanka–615 by New Zealand in 1991–when Martin Crowe made 299 and Andrew Jones 186.

527The total runs scored by Pakistan's first four batsmen, which is the fourth-highest for them. Their highest is 535 against India in 1983, but the more memorable effort was in 1958 in Barbados, when Hanif Mohammad scored a monumental 337 to avert defeat after Pakistan were forced to follow on.

42.67Babar's career average. It is the first time his average has gone above 40 since his third Test in 2016. At the end of 2017, Babar averaged 23.75 after 11 Tests. In the last two years, he has upped his game significantly, scoring 1232 runs - 616 each in 2018 and 2019 - at an average of 61.60. That average is the highest among the 14 batsmen who have scored 1000-plus Test runs in the last two years.

13Innings between hundreds for Azhar, who finally broke his poor run with his 118 today. In those 13 innings, going back to December 2018, Azhar had scored 162 runs at an average of 12.46. Despite that hundred, 2019 has been a lean year for him, with 11 innings fetching only 239 runs. However, it ensured that he has scored at least one Test century in each of the last six calendar years.