For four days, it had been a dreary Test, rain making constant interruptions, temperatures forever threatening to dip into single figures, a bitter breeze blowing over the exposed terraces, right across the ground. But Rawalpindi locals were undeterred. They kept braving the frigid weather. They kept enduring the extensive security checks that saw them gridlocked in queues for as long as two hours.
On Friday they turned up in their numbers, packed out the ground, felt sunshine on their backs, cheered for Sri Lanka in the morning, and in the afternoon, were treated to cricket to make all of the above worth it; batting to make every beating heart swell.
Abid Ali completed Pakistan’s first Test hundred at home in over a decade, and then just before the teams shook hands and settled for the draw, Babar Azam breezed to his own hundred to jubilation and raucous cheers. Abid had got plenty of love during his knock, particularly early in the innings when his pleasing drives and cuts through the offside spurred Pakistan out of their inertia. That he became the first-ever player in men’s cricket to score centuries on both ODI and Test debuts also would not have been lost on many in the crowd. But it was Babar’s name that the crowd chanted all afternoon, and Babar’s century they took most joy in.
It had taken him 18 deliveries to hit his first four, but once the limbs warmed up, and the middle of the bat was found, there was no restraining him. Babar feasted first on Sri Lanka’s modest spinners, sending scorching drives through cover and mid-off, before eventually visiting his brilliance on Sri Lanka’s quicks as well. It had taken him 38 deliveries to make his first 15 runs, but smote 86 off the next 80, reaching triple figures with a regal punch through the covers. Azhar Ali and Dimuth Karunaratne decided to bring the game to a close. Abid was on 109 off 201 deliveries. Babar was 102 off 128. Their partnership was worth 162 off 230, and took Pakistan to 252 for 2 in response to Sri Lanka’s 308 for 6 declared.
Where Abid and Babar got relatively easy conditions in which to make their hundreds however – the winter sun shining brightly, and the pitch offering little, Dhananjaya de Silva had earlier completed a century that had seen much tougher challenges than either of the Pakistan tons. De Silva had come to the crease on the afternoon of day one, and for the vast majority of his innings had batted under floodlights against the red ball, with frequent breaks for rain and bad light. He had also walked into a tough match situation with the score on 127 for 4.
On day five, he was as confident and secure as he was on each of his three previous batting days in the Test. He hit his first boundary of the day off the seventh ball he faced, tickling Naseem Shah to the fine leg boundary. He completed his sixth hundred with another of his delicious drives – this one through cover. This was his second hundred in as many matches, having also hit a 109 against New Zealand in August. He remained 102 not out off 166 when Sri Lanka declared shortly after he got to triple figures.
Sri Lanka’s bowlers began with discipline despite not gaining significant swing or seam movement from a surface that seemed flatter on day five – even for Pakistan – than it had been previously. They broke through in the third over when Shan Masood stroked an innocuous Kasun Rajitha full toss to cover, but would go wicketless for long spells after.
Lahiru Kumara, the most intense of the quicks, was the only other bowler to claim a wicket, having Azhar Ali flick one off his hips into the hands of midwicket. Kumara also tested Abid with short-pitched bowling causing mild discomfort to the batsman. The spinners, however, did not succeed even in drying up the runs. Dilruwan Perera went at 3.54 in his 24 overs. De Silva’s economy rate was 4.36. Karunaratne even turned to two part-time leggies: Oshada Fernando and Kusal Mendis, with predictably modest results.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo’s Sri Lanka correspondent. @afidelf
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