Saeed Ajmal took two wickets in an over to check Sri Lanka’s victory bids on the fourth day of the third and final cricket Test against Pakistan at Sharjah stadium on Sunday.
The wily-spinner dismissed Angelo Mathews (13) and Kaushala Silva (nought) in the final hour to stop Sri Lanka who were on the right track after half-centuries by Tharanaga Paranavitana and Kumar Sangakkara.
Sri Lanka, aiming to level the three-Test series after losing the second Test in Dubai by nine wickets, will seek some quick runs early on Monday, with Paranavitana unbeaten on 66 and Kosala Kulasekera on four not out.
They lead by 237 runs with five wickets intact on a weary pitch which helped the spinners as Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez and Abdul Rehman troubled the batsmen with spin and deliveries that kept low.
The first match in Abu Dhabi ended as a draw.
Paranavitana, dropped on two and 25, batted valiantly to keep Sri Lanka in the hunt as they lost Tillakaratne Dilshan (four), Sangakkara (51) and Mahela Jayawardene (20) while in search for quick runs.
Paranavitana has so far hit four boundaries and a six during his enterprising 156-ball knock.
Paceman Umar Gul provided Pakistan with a quick breakthrough as he dismissed Dilshan, caught in the slip off the fifth ball of the innings.
Sangakkara, who collected 516 runs from the six innings at an average of 86 in this series, added 75 for the second wicket with Paranavitana before he was caught off spinner Hafeez, causing a middle-order slump.
Jayaywardene also fell to Gul, trapped leg-before wicket.
Hafeez said Pakistan remain positive for a win.
“We, as a team, remain positive and will see how things go on Monday,” said Hafeez. “The pitch is still good but it will be the fifth day and we have to remain positive for a victory.”
Left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegadara hoped Sri Lanka get quicky 50 runs to put pressure on Pakistan.
“We want to get 50 quick runs so that we can put pressure on Pakistan, we desperately need to win this Test,” said Welegadara, who took his maiden five-wicket haul, finishing with 5-87.
Misbah-ul Haq missed his hundred by just 11 runs as Pakistan were dismissed for 340.
The lanky paceman improved on his previous best of 4-87 he took against India at Ahmedabad in 2009.
But despite Welegedara’s effort, it was Misbah’s fighting knock of 89 which brought Pakistan closer before the 37-year-old right-handed batsman fell 10 minutes before lunch, top edging a sweep off spinner Suraj Randiv.
Misbah hit seven boundaries and a six during his 261-ball knock.
He added an invaluable 47 runs for the ninth wicket with Saeed Ajmal (12 not out) after Pakistan lost Abdul Rehman off the last ball of the first over of the day, caught in the slips off Welegedara.
It could have been worse for Pakistan if the Sri Lankan fielders had not dropped Misbah three times. Wicket-keeper Silva failed to grab a faint edge on a defensive push off left-arm spinner Rangana Herath when the batsman was on 57.
Two runs later Misbah’s uppish drive off Welegedara went between the hands off Angelo Mathews at mid-off and then at 67 Misbah was let off by Tharanga Paranavitana off the same bowler.
The Pakistan captain took full advantage of the lapses, hitting Welegedara for a straight six and four to take his team’s total past the 300 mark.
In between Herath dismissed Gul for five, but Ajmal provided Misbah the much needed assistance to bring their team closer to the Sri Lankan total.
Welegedara finished the innings when he bowled number 11 Junaid Khan for nought. Herath finished with 3-85.