Younis ton leads Pakistan recovery

PESHAWAR: Younis Khan’s 24th Test century helped Pakistan to recover from an early wobble to make 261 for 4 on the first day against Sri Lanka in Galle. The star Pakistani batsman almost batted for the whole day before the day play ended.

When Misbah-ul-Haq chose to bat, the skies were overcast and the pitch had been under covers following overnight rain. The ball moved around for a while, and Pakistan lost their openers inside six overs. Then came in Younis Khan and fought his way through to lunch. By stumps, Younis was batting on 133, had equalled Mohammad Yousuf for 24 Test centuries, the second-most by a Pakistani, and had gone past the latter’s 7530 Test runs.

Younis and Azhar Ali started the resistance from 19 for 2. Younis then added 100 with his captain Misbah and piled on an unbroken 105 with Asad Shafiq. Rangana Herath persevered for 26 overs, and took out Azhar Ali and Misbah with rippers, but even he could not dislodge Younis, who just got better and better as the day progressed.

There was swing as well as seam in the morning, and the hustling pace of Dhammika Prasad made the combination hard to tackle. He moved the ball in consistently and took the odd one away, leaving Azhar, in particular, groping. Before that, Ahmed Shehzad failed to cover enough for an inswinger, and chopped on his third ball on to the middle stump. His opening partner, Khurram Manzoor, kept falling over in his stance and was caught in front with another incoming delivery.

Azhar, aside from his struggles, also played some lovely cover drives for fours. Those boundaries were a fitting reply to the pressure Prasad created, but after the burst from the fast bowler, Pakistan had to contend with relentless examination from Herath. Finding turn and occasional bounce early in the match, Herath pitched one on middle stump, drew Azhar forward, and spun it past the outside edge to strike the top of off.

Younis took his time as usual, gradually playing himself in. He hung back when he could, and also used the sweep regularly to counter the spinners. The frequency of the stroke only increased after lunch, and Younis swept and reverse-swept Dilruwan Perera off successive deliveries. It was Misbah’s turn to try a paddle off the very next ball, and Perera switched to round the wicket thereafter.

It only allowed Younis to bat even more positively against the offspinner; the batsman collected 48 off the 43 balls he faced from Perera. Just before drinks in the second session, Younis swept, lofted and drove Perera for three consecutive fours. Younis also stepped out to hit Perera for six. Two balls later, he hit a reverse-sweep in the air, and Mahela Jayawardene, moving to his right from slip, got both hands to it but could not hold on. Younis was on 68.

He had already reviewed twice successfully, once on 20 after being given caught behind off Prasad, and on 59 after he was adjudged leg-before to Perera. On the first occasion, replays showed there was no bat involved, and on the second, the ball-tracker showed the delivery would have bounced just over the stumps.

Misbah had a review against him turned down when he was yet to get off the mark, with replays signalling umpire’s call on the point of impact off Angelo Mathews. Misbah took his first run off his 17th delivery, and his second scoring shot was a hook off Prasad off his 40th. He was happy to stay right back or lunge right forward and defend initially as Younis went about the scoring business. Sweeps and nudges brought him the odd run. Misbah battled till his 100th delivery proved to be a Herath stunner that pitched middle and leg and jagged past the push to take a nick through to the keeper.

Shafiq joined Younis and was quite eager to punish the bad deliveries. He was particularly severe on the cut and the pull and even charged at Herath to hit him for a straight six. Pakistan rotated strike faster now and quickened up the scoring before the second new ball approached. Younis launched a series of powerful drives through the off side, the standout stroke being when he moved inside the line of a Herath ball to lift it over extra cover. With the surface having eased out considerably, the second new ball was much easier to handle than the first, and Pakistan closed the day having taken the last two sessions.