Pitch report: Sharjah Cricket Stadium
Ends: Pavilion End, Sharjah Club End
Home Team: United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Pakistan
Test History: 6 Tests; 3 home wins; 2 away wins, 1 draw
Last 6 tosses: 5 batted first (2 wins, 2 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 of the six Tests here took place in January 2014, when Pakistan and Sri Lanka again faced each other and the hosts walked out the victors by five wickets late on day five, chasing 302 to win.
Sri Lanka won the toss and opted to bat, the most common tactic, and took good advantage of the choice initially. They posted 428 for nine before declaring, with Angelo Mathews and Kusal Perera scoring 90s. Pace duo Junaid Khan and Mohammad Talha took three wickets each.
Pakistan's first dig saw them all out for 341, with Ahmed Shehzad's big century the main reason for the decent score. The middle and lower order were poor, as Rangana Herath took five and Shaminda Eranga three.
Sri Lanka failed to capitalise of their bowlers' good work though, and they could only add 214 runs to the lead. They were all out within 102 overs, as Talha and spinners Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman took the wickets.
Thus, Pakistan needed a gettable 302 for victory in less than a day, and they motored at nearly six to the over to reach that. Azhar Ali scored a quick century, while Misbah's 68 not out ensured the win.
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 six Tests, averaging 42 with two tons and two half centuries. This will worry the Kiwis.
Misbah is the next best, with three fifties in eight innings and an average of 45. Interestingly, Taufeeq Umar is the only other batsman aside from YOunis to have played more than nine innings here, but he averages under 20.
New Zealand have never played here, so they're not on any lists. They'll be pleased that Saeed Ajmal is absent though, as he is the top of the current players. But with his ban still in effect, none of the other Pakistan bowlers feature.
New Zealand coach Mike Hesson ahead of the game: "In the other two pitches we could see grass but not here. This looks a bit different. Sharjah traditionally is lower and skiddier and slows up as the game goes on. So I don't expect this wicket to be any different."
Hesson on Dan Vettori's call-up: "From the first two Tests it’s been pretty clear how important spin is in these conditions and we expect the pitch in Sharjah to be the slowest of all three wickets. The possibility of having three bowlers who can exploit those conditions is an exciting option for us to have."
Hot, clear, not rainy. As you'd expect.
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. We imagine Pakistan will make it two-nil.
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