Teen Naseem leads Pakistan to homecoming test series triumph

UMAR FAROOQ
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Pakistan Cricket Sri Lanka

Pakistani captain Azhar Ali and teammate greet young Pakistani bowler Naseem Shah, center, for taking wicket of Sri Lankan batsman during the Test in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, Dec. 23, 2019. Teenager Shah became the youngest fast bowler to take a five-wicket haul in test cricket history as Pakistan completed a winning comeback to tests on home soil with a 1-0 series victory over Sri Lanka on Monday. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Teenager Naseem Shah became the youngest fast bowler to take a five-wicket haul in test cricket history as Pakistan completed a winning comeback on home soil with a 1-0 series victory over Sri Lanka on Monday.

The 16-year-old Naseem took two of the last three wickets to fall in the final day's 15 minutes of play to end with 5-31 from 12.5 overs as Pakistan sealed a comprehensive 263-run win to complete the two-test series, the first in Pakistan in a decade.

At 16 years, 311 days, Naseem was only eight days older than the youngest bowler to take a 5-for, fellow Pakistani Nasim-ul-Ghani, a left-arm spinner, in 1958 against the West Indies.

Naseem's effort punctuated a winning return for the home side. Following the deadly terrorist attack in 2009 on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore, Pakistan was deemed too unsafe by international cricket authorities. The team played 33 home tests offshore, primarily in the United Arab Emirates, until this month.

The fifth day of the second and last test resumed with Sri Lanka reeling at 212-7, chasing a daunting victory target of 476. Sri Lanka didn't add any runs and it took less than three full overs for Pakistan to wrap up the visitors.

Having dismissed Dilruwan Perera with the last ball bowled on Sunday, Naseem removed Lasith Embuldeniya for a duck with Monday's first ball, the tailender gloving a sharp rising delivery to the wicketkeeper.

While Naseem missed a hat trick, century-maker Oshada Fernando fell in the next over, nicking a catch to first slip off legspinner Yasir Shah without having added to his overnight score of 102.

Naseem, playing in only his third test, trapped Vishwa Fernando lbw for a duck in the following over to wrap up the match.

“We definitely needed that performance," said Pakistan's Azhar Ali, celebrating his first test win as captain.

"Special thanks to Sri Lanka from the bottom of our hearts. They have given us immense happiness by playing in Pakistan.

"It’s a big advantage to be playing at home and now we can take the confidence from our performances overseas.

“It had been a tough year in test cricket for us but it was an emotional moment returning home to play. So much talent in these youngsters, experience will come with time. They are the best bowlers in Pakistan and we should back them.

Azhar said Pakistan still had deficiencies, and winning the series didn't solve all of their problems.

“This team is yet to become a team,” he said. "Winning home series is important but until we win away series we can’t be relaxed. We have a long way to go.”

Sri Lanka captain Dimuth Karunaratne rued the fact his side lost control in the second innings, after dominating for most of the first two days.

Other than Oshada Fernando (102) and Niroshan Dickwella (65), no batsmen stood solid enough to try to keep the tourists' hopes alive.

“In the first two days we did work hard. After that, on day three, we lost our patience,” Karunaratne said.

“We were trying too many things. That’s why we gave so many runs in that critical period. After that they kept going. They put runs on the board. We were trying to defend, but our bowlers have to be a bit more patient. We didn’t do well in the last two days.”

After the drawn first test in Rawalpindi, Pakistan won the toss but fell cheaply in the first innings for 191, after which Sri Lanka took an 80-run, first-innings lead.

Pakistan returned with a phenomenal second innings of 555-3, with all of its top four batsmen making centuries, setting Sri Lanka a virtually impossible target.

“This is of course a very emotional and happy moment for us,” Pakistan pace great and bowling coach Waqar Younis said.

“UAE has been our home away from home, but home is home after all. Playing in front of your home people is always something special. Its heartening to see how people turned up to cheer us.

"They have shown their love for cricket and shown the world that this is a safe place and lets play more cricket here.”

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