All of Asad Shafiq's fourth-innings centuries and half-centuries to date have been in losing causes. © AFP

All of Asad Shafiq’s fourth-innings centuries and half-centuries to date have been in losing causes. © AFP

Pakistan have a penchant for pulling off the improbable, doing what no one expects them to do. They almost did it again in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Dubai, when at one stage they looked like they would chase down the target of 317 after conceding a 220-run lead in the first innings.

Apart from the Centurion Test between England and South Africa in 2000 (where both teams forfeited an innings each), and the one between England and Pakistan at The Oval in 2006 (when Pakistan forfeited the game), there have been only five occasions when a team has won after conceding a bigger first-innings lead than Pakistan’s 220 in Dubai.

But, in the end, Pakistan fell short by 68 runs, conceding the two-match series 2-0 to Sri Lanka and thereby bringing an end to their winning streak in the United Arab Emirates after remaining unbeaten for nine consecutive series since November 2010.

Shafiq’s fourth-innings jinx
Asad Shafiq, who made a combative 112 in the chase, became the fourth Pakistani batsman to score two or more centuries in the final innings of a Test, drawing level with Javed Miandad, and Ijaz Ahmed. Only Younis Khan (five) has more fourth-innings centuries for Pakistan.

Incidentally, Shafiq’s other final-innings century – 137 against Australia at Brisbane last year – also came in a losing cause. No other batsman has scored more centuries in the last innings of a Test where his side lost the match.

Not only his centuries, but Shafiq’s half-centuries in the fourth innings – 80 against Sri Lanka in 2012, and 56 against South Africa in 2013 – have also ended in defeats.

Most fourth-innings centuries in losing causes

Player Mat Inns NO Runs HS Avg 100s
Herbert Sutcliffe (Eng) 8 8 0 424 127 53.00 2
Allan Border (Aus) 18 18 3 520 123* 34.66 2
Graham Gooch (Eng) 12 12 0 520 133 43.33 2
Sanath Jayasuriya (SL) 13 13 0 499 131 38.38 2
David Warner (Aus) 13 13 1 702 123* 58.50 2
Asad Shafiq (Pak) 13 13 0 562 137 43.23 2

Yasir, the wicket-taking machine
Yasir Shah ended the series with 16 wickets – the joint most with Rangana Herath. In the 28 Tests Yasir has played so far, Pakistan have picked up 481 wickets, with Yasir claiming 165 of those – a whopping 34.30%. This places him fourth on the list of bowlers with the highest percentage of his team’s wickets.

He also brought up his 150th Test wicket during the series, becoming the joint second fastest to reach the landmark – in 27 Tests – along with Waqar Younis. Only Sydney Barnes of England has done it in fewer Tests (24).

Highest % of team’s wickets over a career

Player Mat Wickets Team wickets % of team wickets
Muttiah Muralitharan (SL/ICC) 133 800 2070 38.64
Sydney Barnes (Eng) 27 189 494 38.25
Richard Hadlee (NZ) 86 431 1255 34.34
Yasir Shah (Pak) 28 165 481 34.30
Clarrie Grimmett (Aus) 37 216 636 33.96

Note: Minimum of 20 Tests

The fine line between victory and defeat
Earlier, in the first Test in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan were all out for 114 in the last innings while chasing 136 – the lowest target they have failed to chase down in Test cricket; 136 is also the smallest target defended successfully by Sri Lanka in Tests.

The 21-run difference between two teams was the slimmest margin of victory for Sri Lanka and the narrowest defeat for Pakistan.

Smallest targets successfully defended by Sri Lanka

Target Opposition Ground Match start date
136 Pakistan Abu Dhabi September 28, 2017
168 Pakistan Galle July 4, 2009
176 India Galle August 12, 2015
244 West Indies Colombo (PSS) October 22, 2015
252 Pakistan Faisalabad September 15, 1995
While Yasir Shah became the joint second-fastest to 150 Test wickets during the series, Rangana Herath became the 14th man to pick up 400 Test wickets. © Getty Images

While Yasir Shah became the joint second-fastest to 150 Test wickets during the series, Rangana Herath became the 14th man to pick up 400 Test wickets. © Getty Images

Herath, the match-winner
The lead architect of Sri Lanka’s victory was Herath, who registered figures of 5 for 93 and 6 for 43 in the first Test. On his way to the match-winning performance, Herath became the first left-arm spinner and the 14th overall to get to 400 Test wickets.

He achieved the 400-wicket mark in his 84th Test, becoming the fourth quickest after Muralitharan, Hadlee, and Dale Steyn to the mark. By the end of the series, Herath had 405 wickets to his name.

Fastest to 400 Test wickets

Player Mat Opposition Ground Match start date
Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) 72 Zimbabwe Galle January 12, 2002
Richard Hadlee (NZ) 80 India Christchurch February 2, 1990
Dale Steyn (SA) 80 Bangladesh Dhaka July 30, 2015
Rangana Herath (SL) 84 Pakistan Abu Dhabi September 28, 2017
Anil Kumble (Ind) 85 Australia Bengaluru October 6, 2004

In the second innings, Herath also completed 100 Test wickets against Pakistan, going past Kapil Dev’s record of 99 as the man with the most wickets against the opponents.

Most Test wickets against Pakistan

Player Mat Wkts Ave BBI SR 5WI 10WM
Rangana Herath (SL) 21 106 28.07 9-127 62.1 8 2
Kapil Dev (Ind) 29 99 30.12 8-85 60.0 7 1
Shane Warne (Aus) 15 90 20.17 7-23 45.0 6 2
Anil Kumble (Ind) 15 81 31.97 10-74 60.3 5 2
Glenn McGrath (Aus) 17 80 21.70 8-24 47.9 3 0

Out of Herath’s 405 Test wickets, 102 have come in the fourth innings of a Test. Only Warne (138), Muralitharan (106), and McGrath (103) have more fourth-innings wickets than Herath.

He now has 11 five-wicket hauls in the fourth innings of a Test, four more than any other bowler. The top five in this list are all spinners, highlighting their significance in the latter part of a Test.

Most five-fors in fourth innings

Player Mat Wkts Ave BBI SR 5WI
Rangana Herath (SL) 38 102 18.57 8-63 45.6 11
Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) 37 106 21.01 8-46 50.0 7
Shane Warne (Aus) 60 138 23.14 8-71 52.9 7
R Ashwin (Ind) 17 59 16.01 7-59 37.3 6
Bishan Singh Bedi (Ind) 26 60 14.46 6-42 47.2 5

The match figures of 11 for 136 in Abu Dhabi gave Herath his ninth ten-wicket haul in Tests, equalling Hadlee’s mark. He is now behind only Muralitharan (22) and Warne (10).

The left-arm spinner, at the age of 39 years and 193 days, also became the fifth oldest bowler to take ten or more wickets in a Test.

Oldest players to take ten-wicket hauls

Player Age Figures Opposition Ground Match start date
Bert Ironmonger (Aus) 49y 311d 11-24 South Africa Melbourne February 12, 1932
Clarrie Grimmett (Aus) 44y 65d 13-173 South Africa Durban February 28, 1936
Tich Freeman (Eng) 41y 71d 12-171 South Africa Manchester July 27, 1929
Sydney Barnes (Eng) 40y 301d 14-144 South Africa Durban February 14, 1914
Rangana Herath (SL) 39y 193d 11-136 Pakistan Abu Dhabi September 28, 2017