Sarfraz Ahmed expresses his displeasure at the fixture schedule that means his side travel to Abu Dhabi twice
Asia Cup: Pakistan hand over home-team status to India when rivals clash in Dubai
For the past nine years, the UAE has been the de facto home of Pakistan’s national cricket team.
Even for the three decades preceding that, they had basically been the biggest show in town, with more wins than any other side in internationals on these shores, and with a 73 per cent win rate in matches against India here.
The 2018 Asia Cup, though, is someone else’s shindig. India are the host board. They are listed as the home team in each of their matches. And even the tournament regulations make it clear it is their show.
A small, italicised addendum at the bottom of the official tournament fixture schedule reads: “Note: On qualifying for Super 4, the host board [India] will play as Group A – Qualifier 1.”
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Just days ahead of their first match against Hong Kong, Pakistan had not read the small print. They thought – perhaps fairly, given a conventional, meritocratic schedule – that the group winners would go through as Qualifier 1.
Each of the qualifiers for the second-phase will play each other, so superficially it does not count for much.
What it does mean is that India are guaranteed to play all their matches in Dubai, and Pakistan will have to make the 90-minute drive to the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi twice instead. No matter who wins their game in Dubai on Wednesday.
A minor inconvenience, perhaps. But a statement that, for this tournament at least, Pakistan cannot call UAE their home.
On the eve of the first UAE meeting between Asian cricket’s two giants in 12 years, Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, questioned the scheduling.
“Travelling is an issue, so that if you travel for one and a half hour during matches then it’s tough,” Sarfraz said.
“In this weather, it’s tough, and then after one day you play another game. I think it should be even for all the teams whether it is India or Pakistan.
“If there are matches in Abu Dhabi then every team has to play there. I don't know what has the Asian Cricket Council done about it.”
It is nearly two decades since India-Pakistan was a regular fixture of the UAE cricket landscape.
They have met in Abu Dhabi just twice, in 2006, and this Asia Cup meeting will be their first in Dubai. Before the Hong Kong match, MS Dhoni was the only member of the Indian tour squad to have played an international match in this country.
As such, history counts for little. If it did, it would be heavily loaded in Pakistan’s favour. Of the 26 encounters between the two sides across Sharjah and Abu Dhabi, Pakistan have won 19.
“We never thought that India could beat us,” Aaqib Javed, the former Pakistan fast-bowler, said. “We could tell from their faces and their gestures.”
Kapil Dev, the former India captain, said matches between the two rivals in Sharjah were unique to the time, and believes the game has moved on.
“It was different because everyone was involved, every person in the street was involved,” Kapil said. “Winning and losing became very, very important. So many times, people wouldn’t see how the team won or lost – they only wanted to see the result.
“In the past 10 or 15 years the Indian team have played so well. Maybe in 20 games [against Pakistan] they have only lost a couple of matches. In totality, I think the Indian team has played much better than Pakistan.”
The fact these fixtures have been such a rarity in the recent past means tickets are precious.
The game is officially sold out, and the gates will be opened at noon – which is 90 minutes earlier than usual, and three and a half hours before the start – to cope with the numbers.
Pakistan have played on these grounds more frequently than anyone else. Once the Asia Cup is over, they will revert to being hosts again, with Test and limited-overs series against Australia and New Zealand.
But in a competition involving the continent’s leading sides, all teams are equal, according to Sarfraz, who played down the idea of his side having home advantage in Dubai.
“People say that it is Pakistan's home ground,” Sarfraz Ahmed, the Pakistan captain, said on the eve of the first meeting in the UAE between Asian cricket’s two giants in 12 years.
“You can say that it’s our home ground, but the conditions are the same as we have in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India.
“I think the weather is the same, the pitches are the same, so it is not the home ground for any one team. It’s even for all the teams.”