Lakmal opens up on how he set up Azhar Ali

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Reporting from UAE 

Sri Lanka fast bowler Suranga Lakmal played a key role in his team’s win in the first Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.

Set a small target of 136, Lakmal dismissed danger man Azhar Ali for a second ball duck and Sri Lanka seized on the initiative and went onto complete a thrilling win. With the middle order exposed, the situation was ideal for veteran Rangana Herath, who took six wickets in the second innings to complete a match bag of 11 wickets for the game as Sri Lanka completed a 21 run win, their smallest in terms of runs.

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur had conceded that losing Azhar early was the turning point in the game. Pakistan’s batting is thin on experience following the high profile retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan and the hosts depend heavily on Azhar, who completed 5000 Test runs in the first innings.

“We had a small target of 136 and we knew that we needed early wickets. I wanted to get the team a wicket with the new ball. Glad I dismissed Azhar,” Lakmal told journalists.

“I was taking the ball away from him and then tried to go wide of the crease. When the ball landed he was surprised by the angle it created and he nicked it,” Lakmal added.

While Pakistan played three fast bowlers, Sri Lanka opted to go with just two seamers packing the side with three spinners.  In the scorching heat of Abu Dhabi, the conditions were testing for fast bowlers and captain Dinesh Chandimal used the two seamers in short spells.

“I can’t explain it to you how tough it is. The heat is too much and we are only playing two fast bowlers. When you are representing your country you have to be prepared to do whatever that is required from the team and move on.”

Lakmal had an excellent tour of South Africa early this year, where he picked up a maiden five wicket haul and was unlucky to not get another as there were several catches dropped off him in Cape Town in the second Test.

“I used to bowl a decent line and length. Now I am trying to swing the ball. No point of bowling fast, if you can’t swing the ball, the batsmen will find it easy. You have got to also reverse the ball and that will bring you success.”

In the first Test in Abu Dhabi, after Sri Lanka lost four quick wickets in their second innings, Lakmal was sent in as night watchman and did a commendable job as he batted for three minutes short of one hour to post 13 runs.

“The coaches have been working with my batting.  All the players are also backing me. I feel that I have made steady progress. I want to contribute as much as possible with the bat.”

Lakmal also revealed that he enjoyed bowling with Nuwan Pradeep. The pair have come up with some decent performances in recent times having started their careers around the same time. “We started our careers together and we chat a lot. When we get to the hotel we speak for about ten minutes as to how things were. He is my best friend and we played for Sri Lanka around the same time. We share ideas and stuff like that.”

Lakmal is making a comeback to the side having missed the entire Indian series due to injury. He also was able to only play one game against Zimbabwe. “I have been playing non-stop for the last two years and only missed the last two series. I am back to normal and I am feeling good. Playing a Test match after five months or so is not easy and I am pretty confident that I will get better in the next game,” remarked Lakmal.

The 30-year-old also said that the tough Indian series, where Sri Lanka lost nine games in a row, brought the side together. “Whatever happened in the Indian series toughened us up. We also worked very hard at our games. We changed a couple of things that we had been doing. We tried hard and I think hard work paid off. Very satisfied and we need to make sure we maintain the momentum.”