Azhar unbeaten as Pakistan crawl towards Sri Lanka total
Skipper Azhar Ali led by example with a typically gritty innings as Pakistan made laborious progress towards Sri Lanka's first-innings total on day three of the first Test in Abu Dhabi.
Having begun Saturday on 64 without loss in reply to Sri Lanka's 419 all out, Azhar's men crawled to 266-4, with the skipper passing 5,000 Test runs on his way to 74 not out from 200 balls.
Every member of Pakistan's top five spent significant time at the crease in the team's first Test since the retirements of key batsmen Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
Openers Shan Masood and Sami Aslam made 59 and 51 respectively, sharing 114 for the first wicket, while Asad Shafiq (39) and Babar Azam (28) also dug in on a day that provided little entertainment.
Babar's dismissal in the final over before stumps provided a welcome boost to Sri Lanka, but a draw appears the most likely outcome unless a generally lifeless surface deteriorates significantly on days four and five.
Masood and Aslam batted out the majority of the morning session without alarm, before two wickets in quick succession left Pakistan wobbling.
Aslam was lbw on review to a Dilruwan Perera delivery that kept low, while Masood - who had been dropped on 51 - threw his wicket away, missing an ugly sweep to be bowled by Rangana Herath (2-47).
In between those dismissals, Azhar was adjudged lbw to Perera second ball, but a review revealed an inside edge and Pakistan's skipper was barely troubled thereafter.
Shafiq proved a willing ally between lunch and tea, as Azhar brought up his 5,000-run milestone in his 115th Test innings. Only Younis (106), Javed Miandad (107) and Mohammad Yousuf (108) have made it to the landmark in fewer innings for Pakistan.
After Shafiq had been caught at slip off Herath, Azhar finally hit his first boundary from the 126th ball he faced and it appeared both he and Azam would make it to the close.
There was to be late drama, however, as Azam was caught down the leg side off an innocuous Nuwan Pradeep delivery in the day's last over.