Inside two weeks, the UAE has hosted two dramatic Test matches showing the full flavour of longest format of the game. In Abu Dhabi, England almost pulled off victory on the final day but fading light meant the Test ended as a thrilling draw. In Dubai, it was Pakistan chasing a win into the dying moments, as they overcame England’s extraordinary resilience with just 6.3 overs remaining in the day.
The venues in the UAE, the second home of Pakistan cricket, have previously been criticised as unhelpful for Tests, due to pitches being unresponsive – a charge that was laid at Abu Dhabi despite the exciting finish. However, Pakistan’s head coach, Waqar Younis, said that the fascinating day five in Dubai was a great advert for Test cricket and the format is very much alive and well.
“The last day of the Test match was a good advert for the game, [although] maybe not for us,” Younis said. “I think a Test match going the full distance is an outstanding thing for the game. I think the game of Test cricket won on Monday. I don’t think Test cricket’s future is bleak in any way. Test cricket is the actual cricket and the way Test cricket is going, I think we should appreciate it and there are no dangers to it.”
England’s Adil Rashid and Mark Wood shared a 55-run stand for the ninth wicket to frustrate Pakistan in Dubai on Monday, batting for 29.2 overs to stretch the game out towards dusk. Younis applauded both Pakistan and England for their part in the spectacle. “Credit to the boys the way they played the Test, bowlers gave their best and credit must also be given to England, the way they showed resistance,” he said.
“Overall the cricket was very good and being 1-0 up is always very handy and we will go [to Sharjah] with same morale and resolve to make it 2-0. I think the way England put up the fight in Dubai on the last day confirmed that they are capable in any conditions, spin or pace, they have got this knack that they are a good team so we don’t have to down our cards in any way.”
Pakistan will play their eighth Test match of the year when concluding the series with England, which will be followed by eight months without a Test. The average number of Tests Pakistan play a year is 7-8, comparatively less than India, Australia and England. The situation is compounded by the country being isolated from hosting international cricket at home over security and safety concerns.
“That’s an issue, that we play less Test cricket, it has been discussed with the officials as well,” Waqar said. “If you look worldwide, all top teams play 15-18 Tests every year and we play six to eight and maximum we play ten and I think that needs to be improved.”
Pakistan have been playing in UAE for five years now and the PCB is involved in the pitch preparation process. However, it is understood that the pitch in Abu Dhabi didn’t meet Pakistan’s requirements. Team management had given instructions for a turning track but there was barely any assistance for any of the bowlers; in Dubai, the strip was shaved of grass to make it a turning track.
In Sharjah, the pitch is traditionally known as a flat one with but recently the soil has been changed and Waqar remained unsure what to expect from the pitch. Pakistan has no formal training on Wednesday but the team management are likely to visit the venue in the morning to assess the pitch and the condition.
“Our effort is that, since this is our home series, we have to have our strength,” said Waqar. “In Sharjah there is some spin and reverse swing but traditionally it’s a flat pitch. What I have heard is that they have changed the soil so let’s see, but we have to keep our strategy intact.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent. @kalson
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