| Pakistan opener Taufiq Umar celebrates his half-century against Australia on the fourth day of the first Test in Colombo on Sunday. (Reuters)
Colombo: Taufiq Umar hit a dogged 88 as new-look Pakistan made a bold attempt to stun world champions Australia in the first Test here Sunday.
When rain washed out the entire post-tea session, Pakistan were 179 for three in their second innings, still 137 runs away from their victory target of 316 with seven wickets in hand.
All eventual outcomes were possible going into the fifth day’s play Monday, made more intriguing by the possibility of bad weather disrupting the game again.
With 19 overs still remaining before the second new ball is available, Australia will once again bank on leg spinner Shane Warne to make the early dents on the final day.
Warne already has two wickets in the bag, following his seven-wicket haul in the first innings, but Pakistan were threatened more by fast bowler Glenn McGrath, who conceded just 15 runs in his 14 overs.
“It could be anybody’s game, although I would like to believe we are favourites at this stage,” said Pakistan captain Waqar Younis.
“The important thing is not to lose many wickets in the first session Monday.”
Left-handed Umar defied the Australians for more than three hours to hit 16 boundaries, before he was dismissed just before tea 12 runs short of his second Test century.
The 21-year-old slashed hard at fast bowler Brett Lee, only to edge the ball high to second slip where Mark Waugh jumped up to take a good catch with both hands.
Vice-captain Younis Khan, who put on 56 runs for the third wicket with Umar, was unbeaten on 32 when play was called off after tea. With him was Misbah-ul Haq on four.
Some 800 Sri Lankan supporters at the Tamil Union ground cheered every run scored by Pakistan, who were given little chance in the absence of four top stars, Wasim Akram, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul Haq and Yousuf Youhana.
The Australians have never been a favourite with the Sri Lankans after refusing to play a World Cup match here in 1996 and allegations of throwing levelled against star spinner Muttiah Muralidharan by Aussie umpires in 1995 and 1998.
Pakistan began the chase on the fourth morning after a sensational five-wicket burst in 15 balls by pace bowler Shoaib Akhtar saw Australia bundled out for 127 in one session Saturday.
Umar and Imran Nazir defied both pace and spin to rattle up 91 for the first wicket, only the third 50-plus opening partnership for Pakistan in their last 21 innings.
Nazir, who made 40, holed out in the deep against leg-spinner Warne shortly before lunch after being hit on the helmet in Lee’s previous over when he ducked to a ball that did not rise.
Abdul Razzaq was the other batsman to be dismissed, trapped leg-before by Warne soon after lunch after struggling for an hour to score four.
Amid razor-sharp tension on the field, umpires Steve Bucknor and Srinivas Venkataraghvan intervened to end a heated exchange between Nazir and wicket-keeper Adam Gilchrist in the morning session.
Australia began the day with a six-man slip cordon for opening bowlers McGrath and Jason Gillespie, but it was reduced to four as Nazir and Umar settled in.
Nazir drove both bowlers for boundaries and Umar meted out the same treatment when Lee came on first change.
However, the right-hander was given one life when Mark Waugh dropped an easy chance at first slip of the bowling of Gillespie.
Both Gillespie and McGrath were breathing fire and it needed an exceptional effort on the part of the openers to keep them at bay.
While Nazir cut down on his across the line shots and concentrated on playing in the V, Umar’s leaving of the balls outside the off-stump was exemplary. He decided to leave the balls on length making it impossible for Gillespie or McGrath to induce a nick.
After weathering the initial storm, Nazir lofted Warne twice and Umar pulled Lee to bring up the 50-run stand an hour before lunch.
Earlier, on the third day, Pakistan was brought back to the game by a brilliant spell by paceman Shoaib Akhtar. On the score of 74, he removed Ricky Ponting, Mark Waugh and Steve Waugh, all failing to negotiate the pace. He was ably supported by Saqlain Mushtaq, who picked up four wickets.