Noman Ali seven-for wraps up Pakistan’s 2-0 victory

Sri Lanka went down by an innings and 222 runs, their worst-ever defeat at home.

Pakistan 576 for 5 dec (Shafique 201, Salman 132*, Asitha 3-133) beat Sri Lanka 166 (Dhananjaya 57, Abrar 4-69) and 188 (Mathews 63, Noman 7-70) by an innings and 222 runs

Noman Ali claimed seven wickets with guileful, accurate left-arm spin, then Naseem Shah‘s sublime reverse-swing spell in the Colombo heat closed out the match, as Pakistan completed about a domineering a victory on Sri Lankan soil as has been achieved in the last several years.

Pakistan’s bowling was spellbinding, but the numbers of this victory themselves are epic. Pakistan won by an innings and 222 runs, which is Sri Lanka’s worst-ever defeat at home. They did it inside four days, despite more than a day’s play having effectively been lost to rain and bad light. Noman’s figures for the second innings were 7 for 70. And Naseem bowled an unbroken 7.4 over spell that was pure fire and reverse swing to shut the door on the opposition.

It was Noman’s flight, dip, and changes of pace that made him an especial threat. Sri Lanka had started their second innings nicely, their openers making 69 together. But the moment Noman came into the attack he produced a spectacular delivery to dismiss Nishan Madushka for 33, and would then go on to scythe through the batting order. The ball to Madushka was bowled from around the wicket, drifted in, dipped, pitched on middle and leg, then leapt off the surface to beat the batter’s outside edge and clip off stump. That was in the last half hour before lunch.

After the break, Noman was unstoppable. Dimuth Karunaratne was caught at short leg by Imam-ul-Haq – another sharp take at that position for Pakistan, who have been spectacular with their close catching all series. Kusal Mendis then attempted to hit Noman inside out and spooned a catch to cover instead, having failed to get to the pitch of the ball. Dinesh Chandimal was out cheaply gloving an attempted lap sweep, and even Dhananjaya de Silva – who had had a good series – fell cheaply, holing out to long on to complete Noman’s five-wicket haul.

Angelo Mathews, who hit an unbeaten half century as the devastation unfolded at the other end, was himself struggling against Noman, particularly early in his innings. He struck some big boundaries, sure, but in between were nervy defensive strokes. He eventually gained confidence. But none of the Sri Lanka batters were comfortable against Noman, as he got plenty to bite off the surface, kept testing them on a length, and bowled few loose deliveries.

When he took his sixth and seventh wickets – having Sadeera Samarawickrama caught at point after getting the ball to bounce more than expected, before having Ramesh Mendis stumped – there was still the chance he might take all ten wickets in an innings.

But then Naseem was putting in a heroic spell at the other end. It is difficult to overstate just how much he was getting the old the ball to swing, particularly into the right-hander. He’d cover the ball as he ran in, to conceal the shiny side, and by extension, keep the batter unaware as to which direction it would move. And he was bowling serious pace – sometimes touching the mid 140kph range.

In one over to Ramesh Mendis the 62nd of the innings – he struck the batter on the pads three times in successive balls. On the first occasion Pakistan reviewed a not-out decision which was upheld because the ball was swinging down leg. On the next two, Ramesh reviewed out decisions, and they both turned out to be missing leg as well. The ball was curving fast and late.

Eventually, Naseem would get some reward. He bowled an especially long spell, partly, you suspect, because he did not want to give the ball up. He bowled Prabath Jayasuriya who left a ball that cannoned into his off stump (further proof of how far this ball was moving laterally), then made an eruption out of Asitha Fernando and Dilshan Madushanka’s stumps as well.

Mathews’ half-century always looked like it was coming in a losing effort, so far behind were Sri Lanka. And although there has been rain around, Babar Azam’s decision to have Pakistan bat two further overs early in the day ostensibly to let Mohammad Rizwan complete an eighth Test half century, did not hinder them at all, so good were his bowlers, and so readily did Sri Lanka’s batting succumb.

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