For vast swathes of the 86 overs bowled in the day, Pakistan's batsmen held sway, blunting a modest attack on a pitch that lost most of its moisture and bite after the opening session. But with stumps beckoning, the second new ball vindicated Kumar Sangakkara's decision to bowl first, with three wickets in the space of eight balls reducing Pakistan to 289 for 7.
That total owed much to Khurram Manzoor and Mohammad Yousuf, who added 167 for the third wicket after Thilan Thushara had taken two wickets in an over to stymie a promising start. Both Manzoor and Yousuf were dismissed in the 90s, and it was left to Shoaib Malik and Misbah-ul-Haq to shepherd the side through to the close. They nearly managed to, until the new ball turned out to be the big bad wolf.
Malik, short of runs and form in the series, had struck some pleasing strokes on his way to 45, and the partnership with Misbah was worth 75 when Thushara arced one into his pads from outside off stumps. Malik missed, and that was that. Three balls later, Misbah lunged to drive Nuwan Kulasekara, and the thin inside edge was neatly taken by Tillakaratne Dilshan behind the stumps. When Umar Gul then chopped one back on to his stumps, the reversal of fortune was complete.
It may have been the last bow for Chaminda Vaas, a veteran of 111 Tests with 354 wickets to his name, but apart from that Thushara over in mid-morning, there was little for Sri Lanka to celebrate after they sent Pakistan in to bat under overcast Colombo skies. Fawad Alam, with a century on debut last week, had just struck his first four of the innings, when he edged one behind to Dilshan, and if Thushara was delighted with that, he was positively delirious three balls later. Younis Khan cut one back on to his stumps, and 34 for 0 had become 36 for 2.
As Yousuf walked out, wagers were probably placed on how quickly Rangana Herath would be brought on. As it was, Kumar Sangakkara waited till the 17th over before throwing the ball to Sri Lanka's surprise spin weapon of the series, but the impact wasn't what was desired. The first-session damage would have been greater than 103 runs but for a sluggish outfield that didn't give the batsmen full value for their strokes.
Once the nerves had settled, Yousuf lofted Herath over long-off for six, and with Thushara then conceding 11 in an over, the runs started to accumulate at a fair clip. Yousuf cut Herath for four, before driving Angelo Mathews beautifully behind square, and it was Pakistan that went into the lunch break with faith restored. After the slump that cost them the series though, complacency certainly wasn't on the menu.
A superb cut and a back-foot punch through cover took Manzoor to his half-century from 85 balls, while Yousuf required 15 balls fewer for his. The 100-run partnership arrived in 24.3 overs, and soon after, Manzoor thumped Herath over his head for four, a stroke that he was to repeat later in the session.
Sri Lanka's bowlers created few wicket-taking chances and struggled for consistency, though Vaas did staunch the run flow in the second hour after lunch. With Kulasekara short of pace, another edge fell short of slip and went for four. And the hosts' woes were compounded when Vaas missed a run-out chance with Manzoor on 65.
Manzoor was content to leave a lot of deliveries and the bowlers obliged by bowling poor lines. By the interval, Sri Lanka had endured the first barren session of the series. When Sangakkara gave the ball to Mahela Jayawardene after tea, it appeared to illustrate Sri Lankan despair, but once Vaas returned, the game changed.
A clearly nervous Manzoor poked at one that left him, and Yousuf was then run out off an overthrow after taking the single that had seen him complete 7000 runs. His 90 had spanned just 146 balls, and it was left to the aggressive Malik and the more sedate Misbah to repair the damage. Once again though, wickets falling in a heap undid much of the day's good work.