Not only that, but a whopping 33.33% of their Test match encounters have resulted in dreary stalemates, highlighting the fact both teams are often equal with each other when it comes to playing in either country.
Nonetheless, the recently concluded Sri Lanka-Pakistan Test series prompted us here at Zero Wicket to trawl through the archives and uncover some of the more spicier and hotly contested games between these two Asian powerhouses.
From the fast-bowling wizardry of Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram to the stubborn never-say-die batting of Aravinda De Silva, here are the top five all-time greatest Test matches between Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
After the first two Tests ended in draws, the first one due to an overly zealous bat-a-thon from Pakistan and the second one thanks to heavy rain which washed out four-and-a-half days of play, it was evident something needed to give to bring some life and drama back into this dull series.
And what drama there was! After winning the toss and batting first, Pakistan’s famous pace duo of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis along with the whippy left-arm paceman Saleem Jaffar made frequent inroads to skittle Sri Lanka for 240 in their first innings. A defiant 81 from a young Sanath Jayasuriya batting at number six for the Sri Lankans breathed some respectability to their score, but it was evident that Pakistan held the advantage.
That was quickly squandered though as the game trudged into a scrappy affair, with Sri Lanka returning serve and bundling out Pakistan for just 221, thanks to a five-wicket burst from 20-year-old fast man Pramodya Wickramasinghe. Ramiz Raja held the fort for the home team with a gritty 63 from 147 balls.
Sri Lanka had a real chance to capitalise on the opportunity to bat Pakistan out of the game here, but Waqar and Wasim were just too good. They shot out the Sri Lankans for a paltry 165 in their second innings, with Waqar bagging a five-fa and effectively nine wickets for the match, whilst Wasim chipped in with three and a total of five wickets for his tally.
A fourth innings chase of just 185 should have been in a walk in the park for Pakistan, but a spirited bowling effort from the Sri Lankans ensured they would scrap until the very end. Wasim Akram showed off his all-round capabilities, batting at number six and hitting a dogged 54 from 117 balls as wickets tumbled around him, the most crucial being captain Imran Khan who went for a three-ball duck.
Moin Khan ensured that there wouldn’t be any further hiccups as Pakistan eked out a narrow 3-wicket victory, resulting in an exciting series win for the home team.
This match will always be remembered for the fact that were was no clear sign of a victor until the final session of the final day. Both teams played abysmally until some inspired batting from Aravinda De Silva and excellent pace bowling from Chaminda Vaas allowed Sri Lanka to take this game by the scruff of the neck.
Fielding first proved to be a great one for Pakistan on this occasion, as Sri Lanka were rolled for 223 with only a valiant 115 from Hashan Tillakaratne propping them up. There were four ducks in Sri Lanka’s first innings thanks to the spin bowling wizardry of Saqlain Mushtaq who bagged a handy three-fa with fast man Aaqib Javed also chipping in.
In reply Pakistan hit an imposing 333 with fifties from Saeed Anwar, captain Ramiz Raja and the dazzling Inzamam-ul-Haq. Despite a brilliant five-wicket haul from spin king Muttiah Muralitharan, Pakistan still scraped ahead with a 110-run lead. Many of the home team’s fans were prematurely celebrating as they had believed that Pakistan had effectively shut the door on Sri Lanka.
But Aravinda De Silva had other ideas. The enterprising right-hander batted defiantly for over six-and-a-half hours in Sri Lanka’s second innings to score a crucial 105 that formed the backbone of his country’s fightback.
It was one of De Silva’s slowest innings, as he batted at a snail-pace strike rate of just 33.22, but it would prove to be one the most important hundreds of his Test career. He singlehandedly bought Sri Lanka back into the game, wiping off the deficit and setting Pakistan 252 runs to chase for victory.
Sri Lanka did not make life easy for the Pakistanis, as regular wickets dented the home team’s progress in chasing a gettable score. Chaminda Vaas, clearly inspired by De Silva’s batting masterclass, produced a special performance himself, as he prised out four key wickets with his left-arm pace. A stubborn fifty from Moin Khan kept Pakistan in the hunt, but when he departed for the eighth wicket, Sri Lanka could finally breathe a sigh of relief as they edged out a 42-run victory before the close of the final day.
A game filled with absolute drama and theatre, an enthralling final day ensured Sri Lanka edged home by the barest of margins thanks to a crucial ninth wicket partnership between a wounded Arjuna Ranatunga and Romesh Kaluwitharana.
Both teams were impacted by injuries and heavy blows, yet the spirit and stoicism displayed by Ranatunga to continue batting even after copping a Wasim Akram bouncer that broke the thumb on his right hand in Sri Lanka’s second innings was greatly admired by his teammates.
According to one opinion piece on ESPNCricinfo, captain Sanath Jayasuriya remarked that "as long as Ranatunga was there, we were convinced we could win. He played a gem of an innings, like an injured tiger."
Pakistan were blasted out for a measly 182 in their first innings thanks to Muttiah Muralitharan and Promodya Wickramasinghe running riot with the ball, as they both bagged four wickets each.
In reply, Sri Lanka were ruthless with the bat, notching up 353 thanks to a masterful 112 from Aravinda De Silva that gave his team the advantage to boss their way into the game. Cameos from a fresh-faced Mahela Jayawardene and veteran Arjuna Ranatunga also helped Sri Lanka’s cause, and an enterprising 53 from 87 balls from Chaminda Vaas that featured eight boundaries and one six ensured the visitors would be well ahead in the game.
But with Pakistan being Pakistan, you just never know what they bring to the table. They finally got their act together in the second innings and responded emphatically with 390. Younis Khan on Test debut scored a beautiful maiden 107 with Wasim Akram’s 79 providing useful lower order runs that would give the home team something feasible to bowl at to defeat Sri Lanka.
At four for 116, Sri Lanka looked well placed on the final day to secure a comfortable victory in their chase of 220, especially with Wasim Akram also ruled out injured mid-way in the game, leaving captain Saeed Anwar with only three genuine frontline bowling options at his disposal.
However, a dramatic batting collapse spurred on by an inspired Abdul Razzaq meant Sri Lanka could not breathe easy yet. With Sri Lanka now effectively eight for 177, Pakistan could smell victory until Ranatunga strode out to the crease once more, his right hand bandaged like a boxer’s.
He had initially been forced to retire hurt due to his broken thumb, however he came out for one final hurrah to save his country. With Romesh Kaluwitharana for company, the duo played watchfully to score the required runs secure what was then only Sri Lanka’s third Test match victory against Pakistan in Pakistan, according to the ESPNCricinfo match report on this special game.
What’s fascinating about this game is that even though Sri Lanka won, it would be wrong to say that either team was leading or dominating at any point in the contest. It was only from a herculean spin bowling masterclass from Rangana Herath that Sri Lanka even prevailed at all, as Pakistan should have easily had this game if they applied themselves better on the day. Cricket can be such a lottery at times.
The match began as a potential run-fest, as Sri Lanka piled on 419 in their first innings, thanks to a commanding 155 not out from Dinesh Chandimal whilst Dimuth Karunaratne was burned in a horrible runout that left him seven runs shy of a century.
In reply, Pakistan matched up to Sri Lanka’s efforts despite nobody scoring a century and they eventually squeezed ahead by three runs. Azhar Ali top scored with 85 and navigated the spin threat of Rangana Herath beautifully, until he holed to midwicket, ending what would have been a brilliant knock. Herath picked up five wickets in Pakistan’s first innings, a clear sign that more spin wizardry from the pudgy left-arm tweaker was to come.
However, Sri Lanka also had a dose of their karma when they too were blown away by the legspin of Yasir Shah in their second innings. Cleaned up for an embarrassing 138, Yasir Shah unveiled all his toys to claim an impressive five for 51 at an economy rate of just 1.88 runs per over, a bowling performance that even Shane Warne would have been proud of. Apart from a resistive 40 not out from Niroshan Dickwella, Sri Lanka’s batting effort was feeble and clueless against the rampant Yasir Shah.
With a victory target of just 136 to win, many would have assumed it would be a mere formality for Pakistan, however their infamous reputation of botching simple run chases came to the fore once more, and Herath got the memo.
He went absolutely berserk in Pakistan’s second innings, as his wily left arm spin proved too much for them to handle. Pakistan’s overly defensive ploy to keep out Herath was ineffective, as the veteran spinner bagged an astonishing six for 43 to pull off one the greatest heists in modern Test history. It was a Houdini-act of the highest order, as Pakistan were left shell-shocked to be all out for just 114 as Sri Lanka ran away with a stunning 21-run victory that nobody saw coming.
Sri Lanka were sky-high with confidence having just completed their first ever Test win against Australia by an innings, and when Pakistan arrived the home team were ready to carry on the winning momentum.
When you win the toss and bat first at Galle, it’s vital that you have a sizeable first innings total to allow your spinners to clean up the opposition as the pitch worsens throughout the match. Sri Lanka didn’t read the room and neither did Pakistan, as young fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi claimed a four-fa to roll the home team for just 222 in their first innings.
Pakistan didn’t fare better though, and if it wasn’t for an exquisite stand-alone 119 from the majestic Babar Azam, the visitors would have copped much worse. Thanks to Babar, Pakistan folded for 218 but were still in the game as they were only four runs behind Sri Lanka.
The little known Prabath Jayasuriya and his left arm spin had a part to play in dismantling Pakistan, as he claimed his third five-fa in just three innings since debuting for Sri Lanka less than two weeks ago.
Flashbacks of 2017 Abu Dhabi seemed to emerge once more, but Dinesh Chandimal assured that Sri Lanka would not falter again in their second innings. He was unlucky to be stranded on 94 as he carried his team to an imposing 337.
Fifties from Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando also helped drive Sri Lanka forward in the game, and not even a brave five-wicket haul from the left-arm spin of Mohammad Nawaz was enough to prevent Pakistan from chasing a 300-plus score for victory in their second innings.
With enough time to bowl out Pakistan and the spin-bowling mastery of Prabath Jayasuriya now recognised, Sri Lanka were slightly overconfident in wrapping up a comfortable victory. A target of 342 would simply be too much for the visitors, they brashly assumed.
It wasn’t enough for Abdullah Shafique. The 22-year-old opening batsman played arguably one of the all-time best ever innings for Pakistan, batting for over eight and a half hours to score an unbelievable 160 not-out that ensured his team got over the line with minimal damage. Even with Prabath Jayasuriya taking four wickets, Shafique was stubborn and resolute in his batting, showing immense maturity and concentration that were well beyond his years.
ESPNCricinfo writer Osman Samiuddin later wrote that his performance had earned him a special record to be only the second opener after Gordon Greenidge to remain unbeaten in a successful chase of a 300-plus target. It was Pakistan’s day as their resolute determination, hunger and desire for victory despite all the odds worked in their favour, and they prevailed handsomely.