x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Sharjah signs tell of bleak prospects for fast bowlers in UAE series

A flat pitch at Sharjah means the pacemen have a tough grind ahead for the series.

Ahmed Shehzad boosted his credentials for the vacant opener’s slot with a 66-run knock. Satish Kumar / The National
Ahmed Shehzad boosted his credentials for the vacant opener’s slot with a 66-run knock. Satish Kumar / The National

SHARJAH // When South Africa last visited the UAE in 2010, their batting prince Jacques Kallis fumed about the dead nature of the batting wickets.

He made 105 in the Abu Dhabi Test then promptly raged that such docile conditions were ruining the longest format of the game.

Play a second match straight away on that pitch at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, he said, and there would still not be a result.

Three years on and bowling might be even less fun, if the opening two days of South Africa’s warm-up fixture against Pakistan “A” is anything to go by.

After the Proteas racked up 332 for the loss of just three wickets on Day 1 at Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Tuesday, it was taken as being a sign of the strength of arguably the world’s best batting line-up.

When Pakistan’s second string batsmen then proceeded to do the same thing against a bowling attack containing Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel yesterday, something was definitely up.

Only seven wickets have fallen by means other than retirement over the first two days of cricket. The bowler’s task is a tough one.

“It is not often we come to play cricket in 40°C in the middle of the desert,” said Robin Peterson, the left-arm spinner who managed one wicket for 42 runs from his 13 overs. “We were tested out there, but the guys responded well. They are still buzzing in the dressing room and all testament to them for putting in the hard work.”

While conditions were clearly in their favour, a successful day at the wicket was just the pick-me-up Pakistan’s batsmen required.

Many of these A team players are vying for places in a senior side still reeling from their disappointing show in Zimbabwe last month.

According to Azhar Ali, who made 54 before retiring to give someone else a go, there is no added incentive for the Pakistan players after the travails of their most recent tour.

“There is no extra pressure,” said Azhar, who will join up with the senior squad in Abu Dhabi next week. “As a batsman I know my responsibility is to bat well and score runs and that is what I’m trying to do.

“We have a Test match coming up and we have some world-class spinners, so hopefully they can get some assistance.”

The respective bowling attacks may be approaching the Test series with trepidation, but the batsmen are salivating.

For AB de Villiers, Monday’s opener in Abu Dhabi will mean a return to the ground where he made a then-record score of 278 not out in 2010.

“That innings was something I will never forget,” De Villiers said yesterday. “As a batsman, it’s always nice to return to stadiums you’ve had success on before and setting a record is a cherished moment.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it was my best innings, but it was certainly something special – and it was my mum’s birthday too, so it was a nice gift to her.”