x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Abu Dhabi pitch is hard graft for bowlers

Pakistan still face the follow-on, but chances are the placid pitch will help them to a draw with Misbah leading the way against South Africa.

Pakistan’s Adnan Akmal goes for a sweep shot as South Africa’s bowlers toiled on the third day of the Abu Dhabi Test.
Pakistan’s Adnan Akmal goes for a sweep shot as South Africa’s bowlers toiled on the third day of the Abu Dhabi Test.

ABU DHABI // The ground staff at the Zayed Cricket Stadium were taking no chances last night.

As soon as the Pakistan and South Africa players had made their weary trudge towards the eye-catching pavilion at the close of play, the covers were on their way on to the wicket.

Bearing in mind more time has been lost to sandstorms than rain showers in the 30 year history of international cricket in the UAE, it seemed an overcautious approach.

In truth, the ground staff might have been doing the game a service had they forgotten to pull the tarpaulins on.

Given the tepid state of this Test, in which 15 wickets have fallen in three days for the concession of 901 runs, the forecast light showers might be just what is required to inject some life into the series.

Led by an undefeated 77 by Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain who is currently averaging 162 for the series with the bat compared to a modest career average of 35.25, the nominal home team had reached 317 for six by stumps.

They remain 68 runs short of avoiding the follow-on. Yet, on the evidence of three days of hard graft for the bowlers, it would take something dramatic, even by Pakistan standards, for them to suffer defeat from this position.

A marker of just how batsman-friendly life is could be found in the fact Asad Shafiq was disappointed he did not go on to make a century on his first trip to the crease in Test cricket.

Shafiq, a diminutive middle-order batsman, is winning his first Test cap here. Although he impressed in making 61, his downfall, caught at slip off the left-arm spin of Paul Harris, represented a chance missed.

"That is the way Test cricket is: you have to work hard and play hard," Shafiq said. "This was probably a very good chance for me [to make a century] but unfortunately I couldn't make it."

At least Corrie van Zyl, South Africa's interim coach, could see an upside. With greater Tests to come this winter against India, the side ranked No 1 in the world, he believes the current situation is providing a necessary test for his bowling attack.

"It is good Test cricket at the end of the day," Van Zyl said, citing Dale Steyn, who has taken three Pakistan wickets on his return following injury, as one beneficiary from the workload.

"It was another hard slog, but that is what Test cricket is all about. I would like to see this wicket deteriorate a little bit more [than the wicket for last week's drawn Test match at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium].

"It looks very placid at the moment and I haven't seen any signs of it breaking up. There is some bounce there at times, so it is a case of staying with it. You never know in this game. We live in hope."