Pink ball or not, wicket is dry and spin expected to come into play later in must-win game for nominal hosts
Pakistan consider Herath a threat in Dubai even as Sri Lanka prepare for first day-night cricket Test
What a difference five days make. Or, perhaps, more accurately, the seven or so hours at the end of the game which decided the first Test in Abu Dhabi.
It had appeared until that point that Sri Lankan cricket’s disarray was all set to lurch on unchecked, while Pakistan’s transition to the new era under Sarfraz Ahmed was sprouting shoots of cheer.
And then Rangana Herath saw to it that all that was, in fact, nonsense, with 11 wickets in the match bringing about a remarkable 21-run win.
Now, ahead of Sri Lanka’s first day-night Test match, they are on the brink of inflicting a first ever series defeat on Pakistan in the Fortress UAE.
In the pink
Sri Lanka did have some matches using a pink ball during their domestic first-class season. However, these were not floodlit.
From the experience of the one match he has played, captain Dinesh Chandimal believes the pink ball favours pace bowlers and not spinners.
Even though their success in the first Test was based on their slow bowlers, Chandimal is still sanguine about his side’s prospects in Dubai.
“We are all really excited because this is our first pink-ball Test match,” Chandimal said. “It is the first day-night match we are playing and it will be a really good challenge for the team. I’m sure the guys will take to the challenge very well.”
Rangana the great
The statistics suggests that Pakistan have long-standing deficiencies against left-arm spinners, and not just ones of Herath’s pedigree.
Even though he said, in his limited experience, he found the pink ball neutered the effect of spinners, Chandimal still expects Herath to be a threat in Dubai.
The Sri Lanka captain, as well as coach Nic Pothas, said their first glimpse of the pitch suggested it was dry, and therefore might aid spin later in the game.
“As far as I’m concerned, throughout my career, Pakistan’s batsmen have really struggled against left-arm spinners,” Chandimal said.
“That is what I have seen over the past seven or eight years. We all know Rangana is a legend, an outstanding bowler. I am sure he will be a really good asset for this game as well.”
On the attack
In his first-Test debrief, Mickey Arthur, Pakistan’s coach, was upset that his batsmen had not taken the attack to Herath in Abu Dhabi.
It was a sentiment echoed by Sarfraz ahead of the second match.
“First of all, credit to him for taking 400 wickets,” Sarfraz said. “I think he has done well for Sri Lanka, he is their No 1 spinner, so the plan will be to attack him.
“The last time we played in Sri Lanka we attacked him, so this time we will try to put pressure on him.”
Pakistan have their own spin threat, too. Yasir Shah took eight wickets in the first Test, and Sarfraz is confident he will be a threat again, despite the pink ball and floodlights.
“I am sure he will get help with the pink ball,” Sarfraz said, citing the West Indies Test last year when Devendra Bishoo took eight in an innings against Pakistan.
“The last time, Bishoo got eight wickets, so it is not like spinners don’t get wickets with the pink ball.”
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Test matches in UAE can occasionally feel like water torture. Low wickets, slow outfields, stifling conditions, and meagre crowds can make for a tough watch.
Are we viewing things wrongly, though? Test matches (for now) are supposed to be played over five days. UAE venues have a remarkable record for using up all that time, and still providing a result.
Sri Lanka sealed the Abu Dhabi Test in the final session. Pakistan have won the two previous Dubai Tests, against West Indies and England, in the final hour of the game.
And when these sides met in Sharjah in 2013, Pakistan won with 15 balls left. A repeat of that in Dubai late on Tuesday night would suit them fine.