Karunaratne ton rescues Lanka

PALLEKELE: Sri Lanka’s Dimuth Karunaratne hit a century amid another rich haul by Pakistani leg-spinner Yasir Shah as the decisive third and final Test began on a rousing note in Pallekele on Friday.

The hosts, sent in to bat after Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq won the toss for the third time in a row, stuttered to 272-8 in their first innings by stumps on the opening day. Left-handed Karunaratne anchored the innings with a dogged 130, his second Test century following the 152 against New Zealand in Christchurch last December.

Yasir ended the day with 4-77, taking his tally in the series to 21 wickets, the most by a Pakistani bowler in a three-Test rubber in Sri Lanka. Yasir enabled Pakistan to keep the runs in check despite conditions favouring the batsmen on the evenly-paced pitch after the initial moisture on the wicket had dried up under the hot sun.

The series is locked 1-1, with Pakistan having won the first Test by 10 wickets before Sri Lanka drew level with a seven-wicket victory in the second match. Pakistan’s bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed said Yasir turned the game around after the seamers had wasted the new ball.

“Frankly, we did not use the new ball well but we recovered through Yasir, who bowled beautifully from the start,” said Mushtaq, himself a former leg-spinner. “If he continues to perform like this, Pakistan is bound to prosper. It will be really tough to play him in the fourth innings. We are lucky to have a genuine match winner,” he added.

Karunaratne said the life in the pitch should help Sri Lanka when Pakistan bat, but added the team missed the calming influence of Kumar Sangakkara. “We depended a lot on Sanga all these years,” he said. “When he batted, the runs kept flowing. We missed him here. I thought we played well but we gave too many wickets in the last session.” Sangakkara, the world’s leading current run-getter in Tests, opted out of the match since he had committed to play just the first two Tests against Pakistan and two more against India in August before retiring.

Opener Kaushal Silva, who had scored 125 in Galle and 80 in Colombo, was caught behind for nine off seamer Rahat Ali, who was picked alongside Ehsan Ali and Imran Khan in a new-look pace attack. The left-handed pair of Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga put on 91 for the second wicket on either side of lunch to lift the score to 106-1, before three wickets fell for 31 runs.

Yasir had Tharanga, who replaced Sangakkara for the match, caught at slip for 46 before he removed Lahiru Thirimanne (11) and skipper Angelo Mathews (three) in successive overs to mistimed drives. Jehan Mubarak, recalled to the Test side after almost eight years, helped Karunaratne add 67 for the fifth wicket before he was stumped off Yasir for 25. Azhar Ali, who had taken two wickets with his part-time spin bowling in 43 previous Tests, doubled his tally with the wickets of Karunaratne and Dhammika Prasad off successive balls. Karunaratne was stumped as he attempted a big heave

and Prasad holed out to Yasir at deep square-leg to reduce Sri Lanka to 248-7.