Pitch report – Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi


We run the rule over the venue for the first Test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi, where a visiting team has yet to win.

<b>Established:</b> 2004<br><b>Capacity:</b> 20,000<br><b>Floodlights:</b> Yes<br><b>Ends:</b> North End, Pavilion End<br><b>Home Team:</b> Pakistan<br><b>Test history:</b> 4 Tests (2 draws, 2 'home' wins)<br><b>Toss history:</b> 2 bowled first (2 draws); 2 batted first (1 win, 1 loss)

<b>Overview</b><br>Named after president Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the ground is situated on the outskirts of the suburbs and cost in excess of 22 million US dollars to build. Despite its hefty price tag, the arena pales in comparison, facilities and stature to the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.

While its UAE neighbour brags an innovative lighting system, dubbed the 'ring of fire', and lavish stands, changing rooms and pavilion, this more modest arena makes do with standard floodlight pylons, twin grass embankments on either side of the pitch and air-conditioned glass rooms. Shade, too, is hard to come by for spectators, who need to drive about 30 minutes from the city centre to get to the ground.

<b>Last Time Out</b><br>South Africa were remarkably ring rusty in October, capitulating to a seven-wicket defeat inside four days at the hands of their pseudo hosts. Pakistan, scorned of cricket in their own country due to the threat of terrorist attacks, continued to make the UAE their home – and ensured visiting captain Graeme Smith's decision to bat first backfired. Opener Khurram Manzoor and captain Misbah-ul-Haq managed fine centuries, while spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Saeed Ajmal remained at the fore of the bowling attack.

<b>Happy Hunting Ground</b><br>It's no surprise that most of Pakistan's batsmen have good records here, with captain <B>Misbah-ul-Haq</B> and number three <B>Azhar Ali</B> leading the pack with averages of 81.00 and 49.66 respectively. This suggests patient batsmen who don't force the pace on slow pitches tend to do well.

Bowling-wise, spinners <b>Abdur Rehman</b> and <b>Saeed Ajmal</b> boast 13 and 16 wickets apiece in two matches here. England's fragile order was particularly kind to the pair last year. <b>Junaid Khan</b> has managed to extract 10 wickets with his probing left-arm seam.

For Sri Lanka, the veteran <b>Kumar Sangakkara</b> amassed a fat double-century at this ground in 2011. Wicketkeeper-batsman <b>Prasanna Jayawardene</b>, too, welcomed three figures – and there was some solid purchase for spinner <b>Rangana Herath</b>.

<b>They Said</b><br>"The conditions suit us, especially our batting. Our openers have very good records on this ground. We've been playing here for the last three years, so it feels like playing at home. The way our bowlers bowled in the first innings on a flat track, they gave us a good sniff by getting South Africa out for under 250. Conditions played an important role. When you are playing at a venue where you've performed well as a team, its a big plus. You really feel comfortable going in search of a win. When you score only 249 on a flat track. different things go through your mind and bowlers try different things. They want to take quick wickets and go for runs." – Pakistan captain <b>Misbah-ul-Haq</b>.

"We have been playing on this wicket for the last four series and we have a fair idea that it will turn on the fourth and fifth day. Day three is very good for batting but it will start turning more. We know how to exploit conditions, especially here, and our bowlers have done very well." – Pakistan batsman <b>Asad Shafiq</b>.

<b>Weather</b><br>No rain, little wind, heavy humidity and temperatures in sometimes excess of 30 degrees Celsius, all and sundry are in for a taxing five days of Test cricket. The stifling weather, too, is likely to bake the pitch into submission.

<b>Conclusion</b><br>Only 27 wickets had fallen in the only two Tests prior to 2012's 40-wicket haul between Pakistan and England, which made for a refreshing change for a region accused of the flattest tracks on the planet. Conditions in the Gulf these days, indeed, thankfully, provide more competition between bat and ball.

The Proteas were the first international side to return to Abu Dhabi earlier this year and, two months later, Sri Lanka are the second. October saw Pakistan field two specialist spinners and South Africa a conglomerate of slow bowlers. Sri Lanka, no doubt, will learn from the tourists' mistake.

Misbah became the first captain to bat first after winning the toss three years ago. This shouldn't change, despite Smith's backfired decision in October, and will prove entirely beneficial for a side eager to perhaps bat only once; more importantly, avoiding batting last on a (hopefully, for the competition's sake) on a fourth- or fifth-day pitch.