Sri Lanka 312 and 210 for 6 (Dhananjaya 53*, Madushka 52, Ramesh 19*, Noman 3-59, Agha 2-25) are 61 runs ahead of Pakistan 461 (Shakeel 208*, Ramesh 5-136).
Dhananjaya de Silva stands between Pakistan and an easy Test victory in Galle, as the two sides headed to tea on the fourth day, as they have done far too frequently in the past.
His undefeated half-century and important partnerships with Dinesh Chandimal first and now Ramesh Mendis have helped Sri Lanka erase a 61-run deficit in the first innings. However, Pakistan retains control of the game, having taken three wickets in each session on the fourth day, knowing that one more dismissal will expose the tail.
While Pakistan depended on its pace bowlers for early breakthroughs in the first innings, Galle’s reputation for being spin-friendly – particularly at the tail end of a Test – became clear as Noman Ali and Abrar Ahmed shared the wickets in the morning.
After a few overs in the fading light the day before, Dimuth Karunaratne and Nishan Madushka gave Sri Lanka a decent start. The strike didn’t rotate much – the first single was taken in the tenth over and 39th run – but Sri Lanka picked up a boundary in each over, and despite some probing lines from Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah, looked fairly comfortable.
However, Abrar’s debut had an immediate impact, as an uncharacteristically wayward hit from Karunaratne resulted in a spectacular catch diving low at midwicket by Agha Salman. Even when the run rate slowed, Madushka and Kusal Mendis returned to the innings calmly, seeing off the fast bowlers and appearing quite secure against spin.However, a pair of strikes by Noman in the final half-hour turned things around. He grabbed Kusal Mendis in front before a superb delivery spinning away from Angelo Mathews clipped the edge and was smartly pouched by Babar Azam at first slip.
Madushka was strong at the opposite end, but shortly after reaching his half-century, he played a reckless shot off Noman, which proved costly. However, as in the first innings, the fifth-wicket partnership kept Sri Lanka in the game. Dhananjaya and Chandimal pounced on Afridi, forcing him out after only four overs. They were more cautious against spin, but intelligent shot selection and constant field manipulation kept the runs flowing as they closed in on Pakistan’s advantage.
They’d reach the 50-run mark, but no sooner had Sri Lanka taken the lead than Chandimal chipped one to midwicket off Agha, and Imam-ul-Haq took a brilliant catch.
The catching for Pakistan has been outstanding throughout this Test, and this was most clear in Abdullah Shafique’s grab at short leg that dismissed Sadeera Samarawickrama. Initially caught off guard by the edge, Shafique reacted to dive to his right and grab a one-handed diving catch, sending Sri Lanka over the edge.
Pakistan smelt blood and tried to make inroads before tea, but Ramesh Mendis and Dhananjaya held tight for the final 11 overs, adding 35 runs to extend the margin to 61. They’ll need a lot more to compete, but with Dhananjaya still around, Sri Lanka are still very much alive in Galle.