A Stroll around Sharjah CS
Ends: Pavilion End, Sharjah Club End
Home Team: United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Pakistan
Test History: 7 Tests; 3 home wins; 3 away wins, 1 draw
Last 6 tosses: 6 batted first (2 wins, 3 defeats, 1 draw); 1 bowled first (1 loss)
Once the region’s premier cricket ground but lately playing third fiddle to its grander successors in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the Sharjah Cricket Association Stadium returned to Test cricket, after a nine-year break, in 2011.
The need for a third venue in the series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka brought an end to the hiatus – and a welcome opportunity to resign a shady history to the past.
Sharjah was at the centre of police boss Sir Paul Condon’s investigations into corruption in cricket around the turn of the century. His report did not conclusively single out the venue for fixing, but BBC correspondent Jonathan Agnew said in 2001: "I would swear under oath that two of the dozen or so matches I have witnessed on that desert ground over the years were fixed."
On the flipside, Sharjah tournament organiser and former Pakistan cricketer Asif Iqbal insisted: "To my mind, all the matches in Sharjah were fair and honest cricketing encounters."
Its alleged relations to fixing scandals and a subsequent lack of topflight cricket has seen the once swanky venue lose a lot of its shine, but recent development has gone a long way in restoring its former glory.
The scene of several high-profile triangular ODI affairs through the 1990s, the stadium serves as a conduit for The Cricketers Benefit Fund Series – established in 1981 by cricket patron Abdul Rahman Bukhatir as a means to honour past players from India and Pakistan and has also served as Afghanistan’s home ground since 2010.
Pakistan were rolled for the record-low, humiliating combo of 53 and 59 at the hands of Shane Warne in the second Test here in 2002.
Last Time Out
The most recent Test here was a year ago, when New Zealand beat Pakistan by an innings and 80 runs inside four days. The second day of the match was lost as it was the day Phillip Hughes died, and the players opted not to take the field.
Pakistan won the toss and opted to bat on this traditionally mixed bag of a ground for them. A score of 197 by Mohammad Hafeez was by far the highlight as no-one else reached a half century. The hosts were all out for 351 on day two, with spinner Mark Craig taking seven wickets.
The Kiwis responded with a whopping 690 all out, with Brendon McCullum scoring a double century at better than a run per ball. Kane Williamson's 192, as well as three other half centuries, ensured a lead of nearly 350.
Pakistan were unable to counter, as the Black Caps' spinners did the trick again, with Craig getting his 10-fer. Trent Boult did his bit for the pace contingent though, taking four, as Pakistan fell to 259 all out, despite Asad Shafiq's ton.
Happy Hunting Ground
Younis Khan, already in sublime form, is the top run getter here by nearly double of his next rival. He's got over 500 runs in seven Tests, averaging 36.21 with two tons and two half centuries. This will worry England.
Misbah is the next best, with three fifties in 10 innings and an average of 40. Hafeez averages around 60 here now, thanks to that score in the Kiwi Test, but that was only his second outing at the ground.
As for England, they've never played a Test here.
England fast bowler James Anderson: "In these conditions you've got to try and get something out of it as a seamer, you try all sorts of things. We've had the keeper up at different stages, you bowl offcutters and things like that.
"It has been frustrating as well because you need people to go after you on these wickets to get the chances, so that is why we've set certain fields and try to be aggressive with our plans."
Hot, sunny, rain-free. The usual.
Batting first is imperative here, as the deck gets slow and spinny quite soon into the game. Pacemen can get some assistance early on, but you'd not want to be a fast bowler on days four and five. The side with the better spinners, and batsmen who can combat the slow turn, will do best.
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