Sarfraz Ahmed was dismissed just four runs short of his fourth Test century © AFP
Sarfraz Ahmed was dismissed just four runs short of his fourth Test century © AFP

Pakistan were in trouble at the start of Day Four, but Sarfraz Ahmed’s fight back arrived as a boon for them as they roared back in the game. Nikhil Popat relives how the wicketkeeper batsman baffled Sri Lanka with his calm aggression.

We live in an era where batsmen are dominating the game with disdain; they have everything loaded in their favour. Brendon McCullum has led a revolution of sorts by asking his team to always be positive irrespective of the format. The self belief seems to have rubbed off on everyone and Sarfraz Ahmed, who is naturally aggressive, showed how such batsmen are rare and gold to find as he took the game away from Sri Lanka even before they knew it. Updates: Sri Lanka vs Pakistan, 1st Test Day 4

Pakistan were in a spot of bother at a score of 118 for five at end of Day Three, with the possibility of avoiding a follow-on very much in the cards due to Sarfraz’s presence. Pakistan needed someone to take the attack to the hosts, and they found the answer in Sarfraz.  During the previous series between the two teams in Sri Lanka last year, he scored 55 and 52 in the Galle Test and 103 and 55 in the next match in Colombo.

Sarfraz is not your conventional get-in-line-to-defend batsman. Or go-back-and-across for that matter. He comes at you, he walks down the wicket, plays his shots and backs himself to score runs at will. He did just that to Sri Lanka and the hosts had no answer to his attack. READ: Sarfraz Ahmed completes 1,000 Test runs

He saw Asad Shafiq defend and just block the bowling at the other end but nothing deterred him. Sarfraz came down the wicket to cover the possible reverse swing early on Day Three and when the hosts were looking to make inroads, he cashed in and got runs quickly, taking on the bowlers by playing orthodox cricket shots.

Sri Lanka tried bowling line and length to him, to which he came down the track and hit through the line. Sri Lanka resorted to round the wicket along the body. Sarfraz responded by shuffling across and clipped deliveries through the leg side. The manner in which he took on Rangana Herath was a sight to behold though. He came down the wicket, almost as if he read deliveries from Herath’s mind. He kept finding the gaps and did not allow Sri Lanka to put in any kind of pressure.

Sarfraz raced away to fifty in just 47 balls with nine boundaries. He then slowed down as he neared his ton, and that was unlike him. He slowly neared his fourth Test ton and suddenly started to find the fielders with his shots which put him off.

Sarfraz then tried to be too cheeky for his own liking. He tried to paddle Dhammika Prasad from way outside off, missed it and had his off stump disturbed. Sarfraz effectively blew up a chance of scoring a ton, one which could have been achieved had he just stayed and batted normally. He stood there with his head down, wondering what he had done. Sarfraz probably didn’t realise then his process till 96 had done more damage than his brain fade of trying to sweep a pace bowler. READ: Sarfraz Ahmed dismissed for 96 on Day 4

It is not a shot that is new to him, but there will be times when he will have to have a check on his emotions to realise what is at stakes. You get such situations with players such as Virender Sehwag, McCullum, who follow the ‘see the ball, hit the ball’ philosophy. It is tough to change their natural game for them. Sarfraz is one such for Pakistan and his urge to be himself, which is a welcome sign by itself.

With Sarfraz setting the game up for them, Shafiq went on to score a ton and Zulfiqar Babar came in and blasted his way to 56 to ensure Pakistan got the lead of 117 runs. With Sri Lanka having lost two wickets before the close of play on the fourth day, Pakistan have the upper hand at the moment.

All wicketkeepers are chirpy and he too chipped in with his expert advices behind the wickets, in the last over of the day. Sarfraz was heard screaming lines such as “Come on, let’s be noisy, let’s put pressure on him, one more and they’re doomed” .

Dimuth Karunaratne who was batting so well, waited for a moment to pause, reflect and had a smile on his face. Sarfraz had a sheepish smile on his face, one a kid would have when he knows that he has done his job and is on top. It summed up Sarfraz, summed up how Pakistan had caught Sri Lanka napping.

Pakistan for long have wished for a wicketkeeper who could win them the game and not cost them the game by being lethargic behind the wickets and low scoring in front of them. They have found a good one and if they take enough care of him, he could be one of the best entertainers from Pakistan!

(Nikhil Popat is a diehard cricket enthusiast and a PotterHead till the end of time. He can be followed on Twitter @CricCrazyNIKS)