Sports, Cricket

Shafique double-ton, Salman rapid century put Pakistan well on top

Published : 26 Jul 2023 08:15 PM

An Abdullah Shafique double-ton and a rapid Agha Slman century were the major highlights in a day in which Pakistan ground down and extinguished any lingering hopes Sri Lanka might have harboured of winning this Test. The visitors' commanding performance on day three saw 363 runs scored for the loss of just three wickets.

By stumps, Pakistan had amassed 563 for 5 and a lead of 397, with the only question remaining being one of when exactly the declaration would be made. While there are still two full days of cricket left to play, it's unlikely the weather will allow for the full six sessions to play out.

At the crease at the close were Agha on a 148-ball 132 with Mohammad Rizwan alongside him on 37 off 61. Rizwan had been drafted in as a concussion sub after Sarfaraz Ahmed had copped an Asitha Fernando bouncer on the back of his helmet; he would bat on following the blow, but would have to retire hurt following a late onset of symptoms.

As for Sri Lanka's bowlers, they toiled all day for little reward. The three main attacking options - Prabath Jayasuriya, Ramesh Mendis and Asitha Fernando - were all taken for triple digits. And the few wickets that came, only arrived after significant damage had been done, and at an agonisingly slow rate - one per session.

A brief glance at the session scoring rates tells its own story, with each progressively expunging any life out the Sri Lankan attack; the morning session saw 95 runs at 2.92 per over, the middle session 124 runs at 4.43 per over, and then in the final session Pakistan plundered 166 runs at 5.03. Pakistan's list of partnerships, meanwhile, read as follows: 13, 108, 89, 109, 25, 124 and 95.

If those numbers weren't enough, there were records to tack on too. Saud Shakeel, who racked up his sixth Test fifty in seven Tests, in the process became the first batter in the history of Test cricket to score fifty or more in each of their first seven Tests - Shakeel also has two hundreds to his name. 

Abdullah Shafique became the highest scoring opener at the SSC, to go along with his maiden Test double ton, and there probably might have been some sort of record for collective mental anguish caused to the opposition, had we some sort of device to measure such a thing, as Babar Azam directed his wards to just bat and bat and bat.

But this is not to takeaway from the batting itself, which was far from tedious. In fact, one could argue it's some of the most effective going around. In hindsight, the pacing of the day's play seemed tailored to sussing out any potential Sri Lankan ambitions of reeling themselves back into the game.

 The morning session, as highlighted by the aforementioned scoring rate, was a slow burn. It took 13 balls for the first scoring shot, a pull to the backward square leg boundary, and then the next 18 deliveries saw just two runs scored. Boundaries would litter the session, but in general it was a cautious one by the visitors. Crucially though, they had lost just the wicket of Babar.

But as the day progressed and the afternoon sun began to beat down harder, so did Pakistan's batters. Shafique would prove the constant - defending stoically, lofting majestically and easing pressure like a well-oiled valve. At the other end was where the dynamism was sought. Shakeel was the initial foil, but once he fell business really picked up.

 Pakistan's lead at that point was a touch over 150, with quick runs the order of the day. Enter Sarfaraz, who would crack three boundaries in his 22-ball stay before being ruled out of the Test. Agha would follow and he would scarcely slow down. His fifty came off just 50 deliveries, his century off 123; by the end of play he had notched 15 fours and six.

Shafique, meanwhile, continued to play like he had done throughout the innings, knocking over the strike with the odd boundary thrown into the mix. Only once he reached his double-century, did he play a shot in anger, slicing one high to mid-off.

But like with each wicket that preceded it, this one only brought more pain for the hosts, as concussion sub Rizwan matched Agha's intensity, and the visitors piled on ever more runs.

There was speculation a declaration might have been forthcoming in the final hour before stumps, but now the wait is to see if there will be one made overnight. Sri Lanka might be looking forward to the reprieve, but unless rain intervenes, they still have a substantial grind ahead if they're to save this Test.