Pakistan erased their deficit with relative ease but their attempts at pushing for victory by trying to set a challenging target were dealt a blow with the loss of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq before tea. Rangana Herath removed that experienced pair, prompting the solid and settled Azhar Ali to restrain himself and focus on rebuilding and damage control instead of seeking to level the series.
Pakistan only led by 99 at tea amid uncertainty over whether Adnan Akmal, their wicketkeeper who suffered a hairline fracture on his finger in the first innings, would be able to bat. The assistance to seamers was considerably lesser than it had been for the first two days, and even though Herath picked up two wickets, he hardly found turn. In these conditions, Pakistan, who were two down at the time of taking the lead, would have hoped to press on with Ali going strong. The 13.5 overs after Misbah's dismissal only yielded 34 runs.
Both Ali and Younis stepped out of the crease to Herath, defending, driving down the ground, working the ball around, and did so successfully for the bulk of their stand. But Younis failed to get to the pitch for a flat delivery; the ball scraped the thumb and lobbed up before silly point to be taken smartly, inches from the ground, by an alert Tharanga Paranavitana. Misbah showed some intent straightaway, attempting a slog-sweep off Herath and slashing a wide one from Thisara Perara. When he tried to drive a loopy delivery from Herath, he edged straight to slip and departed for just 5.
Ali, amid all this, was confident and batted positively. He was especially strong through the extra-cover region, even prompting Mahela Jayawardene to employ two fielders there at one point. He drove Herath and Perera, the timing standing out, and crunched both Perera and Dilhara Fernando for boundaries down the ground. Younis gave him company in a 48-run stand, collecting boundaries through point and cover. He survived a caught-behind chance that was dropped following a nagging off-stump line bowled by Angelo Mathews but gradually developed a fluency to push the scoring before being dismissed.
After Perera's onslaught on the third day and Taufeeq Umar's early wicket, the pressure was on Pakistan to preserve their wickets yet also score at a pace that gave them a shot at victory. Ali and Mohammad Hafeez appeared to be putting Pakistan on track before lunch. Their experience was a contrast to the struggles of Paranavitana and Thilan Samaraweera on an overcast third morning. The Sri Lankan pair had played and missed, were struck on the pads as the ball darted in and out, swung one way and the other. Under sunny skies today, batsmen needn't have worried that much.
Nuwan Kulasekara got some early inswing, but Hafeez and Ali were adept playing those deliveries through midwicket and square leg. When he got the odd one to hold its line, they were happy to leave it alone. Perera, who got prodigious movement both ways in the first innings in a marathon nine-over spell, bowled a shorter length today and his first spell lasted five overs. He was replaced by Herath, while Fernando, like in the first innings, was held back till the 26th over, when he could have made an impact with his extra pace and bounce had he been brought on earlier.
Hafeez, too, used his feet well, marching out and flicking Herath for four through midwicket. For the seamers, Sri Lanka kept a deep point and two fielders in the deep for the mistimed pull, but Hafeez was able to bisect them, all along the ground. The spread field also allowed a steady flow of singles, 39 out of 92 runs scored.
Fernando bowled quick, got the ball to straighten and varied his lengths. The split-finger slower ball made an appearance so did his accurate yorkers. But a full-and-wide delivery was an unlikely candidate for a wicket-taking ball, as Hafeez reached and nicked one to first slip. Ali wiped off the deficit soon after, but plans made at lunch would be set back by tea.