x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai Test hardly the right advertisement for cricket

Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by nine wickets to take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series, but Paul Radley explains why the long version of the game ended up losing.

Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by nine wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday, but our columnist was disappointed to see empty stands in the stadium. Ishara S Kodikara / AFP
Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by nine wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday, but our columnist was disappointed to see empty stands in the stadium. Ishara S Kodikara / AFP

Sri Lanka head up the road to Sharjah this week knowing they cannot lose the Test series against Pakistan, having gone 1-0 up here in the second Test.

Not that their nine-wicket victory at Dubai International Cricket Stadium was necessarily an overwhelmingly triumphant narrative for the sport.

Damned critics

Even old warhorses struggle to take the rough with the smooth sometimes. Graeme Smith sulked when asked if the ball-tampering kerfuffle involving Faf du Plessis had taken the gloss off South Africa’s win here in October.

It was a valid question, met with a bad-tempered no, even though Smith, who has played in about 340 international matches, has already seen it all. He had been happy to enjoy the acclaim after his masterful double-century a day earlier, though.

Even the best of men struggle to treat the twin impostors of triumph and disaster the same.

Mahela Jayawardene has been the most amenable and likeable man in world cricket for a decade. But even he gets his nose out of joint by the doubters.

“Love my critics, they keep me going!” he tweeted after his decisive first-innings hundred here.

Who needs bits and pieces cricketers?

Sri Lanka has a rich heritage of master batsmen who are also highly skilled back-up bowling options.

Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillakaratne Dilshan, for example, all had productive careers with their lesser suit.

The cupboard is somewhat bare for captain Angelo Mathews on that score, though, given that four of the players in this batting line-up are wicketkeepers.

When he needed an over in this game, he threw the ball to Kumar Sangakkara, who, for all his magnificence as a batting great, would struggle to get into The National’s staff team as a bowler.

“When we go into a Test match we take our best bowlers, so if someone gets injured, we can’t always bank on having a back-up,” said Mathews. “If we look at the batsmen, even if they are wicketkeepers, they have done their jobs.

“Unless the pitch is very different in Sharjah, I don’t think we need to make any changes.”

Job security? Not in Pakistan

It stands to reason that an administration as volatile as the Pakistan Cricket Board should feel happy to infuse their main representatives with a feeling of constant trepidation.

If the selectors know their position might not last for long anyway, then why not have some fun and try to undermine others, too?

Take the top of Pakistan’s batting order as an example. They seem to be selected under the mantra of: Here is your Test cap, son – now perform, straight away, or else you are out.

Ahmed Shehzad, who was deemed trustworthy enough to open the innings in Abu Dhabi, scored three and nine here.

Will we see him again in Sharjah for the final Test, let alone the start of Pakistan’s next series?

“I think you must give some time to guys like Ahmed and Khurram Manzoor, who has been doing well and has some experience of Test cricket now,” said Younis Khan, Pakistan’s senior batsman.

“Given time they will learn from their mistakes and I think they will be good in Test cricket.”

The penny has not dropped

The game keeps making good noises about the need to Save Test Cricket. Sadly, it remains just that – noise.

What was the point of this match, honestly? Seems a costly business if it was put on for the pleasure of the few hundred people who made the trip to watch it live.

A Filipino member of staff at Dubai International Cricket Stadium wondered the same.

“What do Sri Lanka get for winning?” he asked. “Do they qualify for the World Cup?”

When met with the answer – “Er, honour, a bit of pride, maybe” – his expression was a picture.

So it was entirely futile then, his askance look suggested. Another potential convert lost.

While it is ultimately the action that should sell the sport, the people putting on the show need to shoulder much of the blame, too.

Such as cordoning off the best seats at the ground, so the spectators did not spoil the players’ concentration.

There is a school of thought that there are no good seats at cricket. If you then partition off the only half-decent ones it is a sure fire way to crucify the sport.