Shan Masood and Sami Aslam had a steady opening partnership

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Shan Masood and Sami Aslam had a steady opening partnership © AFP

Pakistan openers Shan Masood and Sami Aslam - batting together for the first time, put together 114 runs for the first wicket as they finished the first session at 121 for two. Both openers scored half-centuries on a slow surface that showed few signs of springing to life until the last half hour, and Pakistan"s batsmen worked their way through the innings the same way their Sri Lankan counterparts had done over the Test"s first two days.

Masood and Aslam have spent much of the past 15 months competing for one opening slot, but with Azhar Ali moving back down to No. 3, the two left-handers showed they were perfectly capable of batting alongside each other. They couldn"t, in all honesty, have asked for an easier wicket for the audition on; there was nothing on offer for the pacers, and even Sri Lanka"s legendary legion of spinners didn"t begin to threaten until the last half hour of the session, when suddenly deliveries began to fly off cracks that hadn"t played any role until then. The run rate hovered just above two, meaning Pakistan were never quite bearing down on Sri Lanka"s total of 419, and when the openers fell within minutes of each other, it was Sri Lanka who looked to have established the stronger position.

Lakshan Sandakan, who had looked the most menacing of Sri Lanka"s bowlers in the evening session yesterday, continued to display impressive control, starting the day off with three successive maidens to set the tone for the session. On a blistering day in Abu Dhabi, it wasn"t advisable for anyone to be bowling the sort of spells Sarfraz Ahmed had subjected Yasir Shah to, and Dinesh Chandimal in any case had a number of spin options at his disposal. While Nuwan Pradeep held one end up, Sandakan, Dilruwan Perera and Rangana Herath did the attacking, searching for something to trouble the batsman on a rather barren surface.

It wasn"t until the tail-end of the session, however, that something of note happened. The few dozen spectators in the ground might have dozed off for the lack of action in the morning - besides a Masood dropped catch and the odd elegant drive, the session was lacking in animation. But out of nowhere, Perera got one to keep low as Aslam moved on to the backfoot, helpless as it hit him on the pad in line of the stumps, and dismissed on review. Two balls later, the incoming Azhar Ali looked to have met the same fate as the umpire gave him out, but was saved by an inside edge so faint even he didn"t know he"d hit it.

Shan Masood spent the next few overs being worked over by Herath and Perera, suddenly beginning to look uncomfortable every ball. The odd one exploded from a crack as Masood began to play across the line and shuffle in the crease, clearly having lost some of his composure. That was in evidence even in the way he was dismissed, moving across his stumps and attempting an ugly sweep off Herath that crashed into his leg stump.

Sri Lanka"s dominance in the few minutes that remained was palpably evident, and if they had their way, wouldn"t have liked to break for lunch at that point. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq shifted around uncomfortably, looking to survive till lunch. It needed some luck, with Shafiq surviving a borderline stumping decision off the last ball before the interval, ensuring Pakistan preventing the session from being completely dominated by the islanders.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000

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