Ibrahim fifty leads Afghanistan’s firm reply after Sri Lanka go 241 ahead

Sri Lanka

Afghanistan 198 and 97 for 0 (Ibrahim 52*, Noor Ali 42*) trail Sri Lanka 439 (Mathews 141, Chandimal 107, Naveed 4-83) by 144 runs

Afghanistan’s excellent third day continued through the afternoon session, as Ibrahim Zadran and Noor Ali Zadran batted through it unbeaten. The pitch had little in it beyond bounce, and the beginnings of some turn for Prabath Jayasuriya. Nevertheless, Ibrahim and Noor had to see out some testing bowling, particularly early in the session from Asitha Fernando.

Their resistance left Afghanistan 144 runs behind after they had fallen behind by 241. The focus, clearly, was on batting time rather than run-scoring. Noor and Ibrahim made just 62 in the afternoon, off 27 overs – a scoring rate of 2.30.

Earlier in the day, Afghanistan had claimed three wickets for 39 to close out Sri Lanka’s first innings at 439. That period of play was darkened, however, by a blow to the helmet for debutant Chamika Gunasekara, who after a few overs showed signs of concussion, and was taken to hospital for further testing. Kasun Rajitha was officially inserted into the game as his concussion substitute.

Asitha’s five-over spell immediately after lunch was the most tense period that Ibrahim and Noor had to survive. With two fielders out for the hook, and a short leg in place, Asitha brandished the bouncer liberally through that spell, getting Ibrahim to jump, but troubling Noor in particular.

In his fourth over of the session, Asitha thought he had got Noor gloving one high to wicketkeeper Sadeera Samarawickrama, but that ball was shown to have come off the arm guard, with Sri Lanka burning a review. The other quicks – Vishwa Fernando and Rajitha – also tried the short ball at times, but among the seamers, it was Asitha’s persistent spell that came closest to getting a breakthrough.

Jayasuriya, meanwhile, was played watchfully by both batters, who rarely attempted big shots against him. Noor played one good reverse sweep for four off Jayasuriya about midway through the session. But then Ibrahim almost lost his wicket against Jayasuriya a few overs later, when he came down the track and hit the ball hard back towards the bowler, who let it burst through his hands and on to the boundary.

For the most part, however, the Afghanistan batters were content to accumulate. Ibrahim brought up his fifty – the fifth of his Test career – with a cover drive off Rajitha, shortly before the session’s close. In that same over, Sri Lanka also burned the second of their reviews, believing Noor had edged Rajitha down the leg side.

In the morning, it had been the important wicket of Sri Lanka’s last recognised batter Samarawickrama that set Afghanistan on track for a strong couple of sessions. Seeing a wide one from Naveed Zadran, Samarawickrama attempted to drive it away from his body and wound up edging to gully.

Naveed finished with figures of 4 for 83, after also bowling Jayasuriya. It was one of his deliveries that had hit Gunasekara on the helmet, as the batter attempted to duck. Nijat Masood claimed the final wicket – they only had to get nine because Gunasekara retired hurt – to finish with two wickets for himself.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is a senior writer at ESPNcricinfo. @afidelf

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