Dilruwan Perera and captain Angelo Mathews just missed centuries before Sri Lanka declared its first innings at a strong 428-9 against Pakistan on the second day of the decisive third test on Friday.
Pakistan was 19 without loss at stumps and was in a tight corner to level the series after losing the second test by nine wickets.
Perera made a brilliant 95 with 12 fours and two sixes in his test debut and Mathews was out for a more pedestrian 91 with five fours and a six to quash Pakistan hopes of restricting Sri Lanka after it resumed from 220-5 overnight.
Sri Lanka first innings 428 Pakistan first innings K Manzoor not out 14A Shehzad not out 5Extras: 0Total: (0 wickets; 6 overs) 19
"I couldn't get a hundred but it's an achievement considering I am playing against the two best spinners in the world'' said 31-year-old Perera, who made his one-day international debut in 2007 but had to wait seven more years for his first test.
"I am still happy to get 95.''
The Pakistan bowlers' agonizing day on a benign pitch offering little spin and no lateral movement for the fast bowlers, was summed up when Perera added 72 runs with Shaminda Eranga (25 not out) for the ninth wicket before a rare lapse of concentration in his just over five-hour knock saw him top edge Mohammad Talha (3-99), prompting the declaration soon after.
"It was a tough day but it's a part of test cricket and hopefully Pakistan will put up a good fight tomorrow'' seamer Junaid Khan said.
"Perera batted well, but the wicket is very flat and it has favored the batsmen on the first two days.''
Mathews earlier put on 112 runs with Perera in nearly three and a half hours for the seventh wicket before he sliced Khan (3-81) to deep cover just before tea.
Pakistan's spinners toiled hard but neither Saeed Ajmal (2-120) nor Abdul Rehman (1-101) got any turn at Sharjah Cricket Stadium and they both could not add to their Thursday's tally of wickets despite bowling 55 and 50 overs in the innings respectively.
Perera, who came into bat at No. 8 in only the sixth over of the day, batted with maturity in two productive partnerships as he faced 247 balls in a meticulous knock.
After sharing a century-stand with Mathews, Perera upped the scoring rate with Eranga.
Mathews then tested Pakistan openers Khurram Manzoor (14 not out) and Ahmed Shehzad (5 not out) for six overs by declaring late in the day.
Earlier, Mathews, who scored 91, a career-best unbeaten 157 and 42 in his previous three knocks in the series, missed a century after batting for six hours off 256 balls before attempting to slice left-arm seamer Khan over covers but managed only to hole out to Shehzad at deep cover in a rare rash shot.
Mathews made Pakistan pay dearly for a dropped catch late on Thursday when Talha could not hold onto a difficult chance off his own bowling before the skipper scored.
Khan made it two in two deliveries when he trapped Rangana Herath leg before wicket. Eranga stopped the hat-trick delivery and cut loose after tea, taken at 359-8, with Perera. After the break they added a quick 69 runs.
Perera benefited from Pakistan having spent its two reviews, as he was ruled not out to an lbw appeal by Ajmal though reviews showed he was struck on the pad right in front of the stumps with the ball pitching in line.
Prasanna Jayawardene added seven to his overnight score before he was caught at fine leg when he pulled Talha in the sixth over. But that was the only success before lunch for Pakistan.
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