How Prabhat Jayasuriya removed Babar Azam with an undercutter for the second time in the Test to tilt the game Sri Lanka’s way

Only Babar Azam stood between Sri Lanka and a win in the second Test on the final day. And rain. Azam had reached 81 and looked good. The feet were moving all right: forward, back according to the demands of the length. 

But it was clear that if Babar had to be dislodged, it would need a deception from the hands at the release itself, that somehow gets Babar stuck in the crease. To make Babar doubt what the ball was going to do, and hence to make him unbalanced and in an awkward position. But that’s not easy as he has had the measure of Jayasuriya in the first Test, as far as the variations went. While other batsmen weren’t too comfortable reading the arm-ball from the turner, Babar had looked more assured. This pitch for the second Test, on the final day, was offering a bit more pace and some extra bounce. If the batsmen can be had in the air, then the spinner could get into the business.

Before we come to the second Test contest between the two, perhaps it’s best to sum up what happened in the final day of the first Test when Pakistan soared to a big chase. Then, with very slowish turn on offer, Jayasuriya went largely over the stumps and bowled at the rough outside leg stump to Babar. Overs ticked by before Babar made a mistake of shouldering arms to a delivery without covering the line – and was bowled. By then, though, he had amassed a big partnership with the opener to take the match Pakistan’s way.

In this game, Jayasuriya hunted Babar from round the stumps, in a more traditional left-armer’s way. In the first innings, he undercut a ball, the fingers skimming the ball on its underside, getting the ball to go on straighter. He floated one well outside off, full, and Babar went for the big booming cover drive that’s been selling cricket bats across shops in Pakistan. But he was covering for the turn, and the ball ricocheted off the inner edge to fall on the stumps.

Now, in the second innings, with the Test on the line, not long after resumption in the second session, with rain threat hovering, Jayasuriya produced the rabbit out of his hat. This fell on a full length, in line with the stumps, and Babar froze. Perhaps, he was unsure of its destination. Would this turn away or come in? That split-second indecision is usually enough to take out a good batsman. But this is more than a good batsman. 

As the ball looped and landed, he stood there, head bowed, peering at the ball, the weight on the front foot, but he still wasn’t sure about what it would do. The hands were pretty adjacent to the pad, not too far away, so that in theory he could squeeze in his bat, jam it in line to stab the ball. And so he watched. 

But Jayasuriya had this one burst through quicker, and it was rapidly moving in towards its target: The pad. At the very last instant, Babar tried to collapse his wrists and stab but it was too late. The ball had thrust into the pad. Babar called for a DRS hoping the bounce would save him. It wouldn’t. Game over.

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