Galle, July 17:Pakistan captain Babar Azam once again showed why he is so highly rated, striking his seventh Test hundred in a brilliant rear-guard action and leading his side's fightback against Sri Lanka on the second day of the opening Test, here on Sunday.
With nine wickets down and the score reading only 148, Sri Lanka looked set to gain a healthy lead. But Babar Azam (119) stitched a valuable stand of 70 for the last wicket with Naseem Shah, who scored just five runs off 52 balls, to take Pakistan to safety.
Prabath Jayasuriya couldn't have written a better script in his second Test, taking five wickets and giving away only 82 runs. He was a menace to Australia on debut and Pakistan too got a taste of the skills of the left-arm spinner.
Jayasuriya struck off just the third ball of the day by trapping Azhar Ali in front of the stumps. After a brief period of resurgence from Pakistan, courtesy of the partnership between Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan, Ramesh Mendis strangled the latter down the leg-side.
The wicket opened the gates for Sri Lanka, with Jayasuriya wreaking havoc thereafter. Debutant Agha Salman fell to the left-arm spinner's arm ball. A few overs later, Jayasuriya recorded his third five-for in as many innings and was on a hat-trick having dismissed Mohammad Nawaz and Shaheen Afridi off consecutive deliveries.
Earlier in the morning, Pakistan managed to add 80 runs to their overnight score but lost five wickets doing so.
While wickets continued to tumble at one end, Babar Azam put up a gritty resistance at the other. As he has made a habit of, he broke yet another record during his innings — he became the fastest Pakistan batter to 10,000 international runs across formats and fourth overall.
The grind continued for the Pakistan skipper, who received some support — first from Yasir Shah and then Hasan Ali. With the two, Babar Azam added crucial 27 and 36 runs for the 8th and 9th wickets respectively, and also brought up his 22nd Test fifty in the process.
At 148/9, Sri Lanka were in the driver's seat and were on the verge of taking a big lead. However, what followed was an incredible show of grit and resistance from the final wicket pairing of Babar Azam and Naseem Shah.
Babar did the majority of the batting in the innings, opting to farm strike to protect the 19-year-old Naseem. Naseem, to his credit, played his role to perfection whenever he had to face the music. He showed tremendous patience for a No.11 and it wasn't until the 39th ball of his innings that he got off the mark.
The Pakistan skipper, on the other hand, mixed caution and aggression brilliantly to reduce the first-innings deficit. He brought up his seventh Test hundred, an incredible knock under the circumstances and kept going even after getting to the milestone.
It was Maheesh Theekshana who brought respite to Sri Lanka by getting Babar out lbw and bringing an end to a 70-run stand. By the end of the innings, the hosts were left with a negligible lead of four runs.
Pakistan got the big wicket of Dimuth Karunaratne (16) before stumps, with Sri Lanka (36/1) leading by 40 going into Day 3.
Brief scores: Sri Lanka 222 and 36/1 in 11.5 overs (Mohammad Nawaz 1-12) lead Pakistan 218 (Babar Azam 119; Prabath Jayasuriya 5-82) by 40 runs.