x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Pakistan's positive spin on prospects at favourite Sharjah ground

Chasing a probable 300-run target and getting a 2-0 series result may be tough on a turning wicket but the UAE venue provides hope.

There is not much precedent to go by to determine what could be a decent target on a final day in Sharjah.
There is not much precedent to go by to determine what could be a decent target on a final day in Sharjah.

SHARJAH // Sharjah Cricket Stadium has been good to Pakistan over the years, what with the healthy win-loss record over India, Javed Miandad, Chetan Sharma and all that.

Pakistan's current vintage are hoping the Sharjah factor will return to help them today. It does not need to be quite as spectacular as that day, 25 years ago, when Miandad chipped Sharma's last ball over the fence to take the spoils against India.

But a victory, by any means possible, over Sri Lanka here would be a small mercy for which all of Pakistan cricket would be thankful.

The players know well that whatever they have achieved on the field during their tour of the UAE to date has paled in comparison to what has gone on inside a courtroom thousands of miles away.

They are also aware, however, that securing a 2-0 series win over Sri Lanka is the best way to dispel the pall of gloom which has hovered over Pakistan cricket for too long. "It will certainly provide a positive impact in terms of what has been going on outside," Naushad Ali, the Pakistan team manager, said yesterday.

Mohammed Hafeez, the Pakistan opener, insists turning a 237-run overnight deficit into a final day victory is within the capabilities of his side. "Winning the series against such a good side anyway would be a positive morale booster for us," Hafeez said.

"For the past one year we have been working very hard together to improve our ranking. It will be a great boost to win the series 2-0.

"We want to get them out early, we are very positive about our chances, and we will think positively whatever our target is."

Of the 204 matches to be played at this ground before this one, none has ended in a draw. Admittedly, only four have been Test matches, but each of those has ended decisively, despite Sharjah being known for its hard pitches.

Sri Lanka need to force a win to halve the series, and how they go about pursuing one today will be intriguing.

Given that it is nine years since a Test was last played at this venue, there are few pointers to cling to as to Sri Lanka's chances.

Chanaka Welegedera, the left-arm seamer who took five wickets in the first innings, said his side believed they could put the batsmen under pressure if they add 50 more runs in 15 overs today.

That would leave Pakistan a potential run chase of around 290 in approximately 75 overs, on a pitch which is starting to take sharp turn.

If Geoff Marsh, Sri Lanka's coach, and Tillakaratne Dilshan, the captain, are looking for clues, the most recent first-class match on this ground, an Intercontinental Cup tie between Afghanistan and the UAE, might be instructive.

The Afghans, known as a big hitting side, made just 131 runs in 80 overs on a worn final day pitch last month, but they were still able to bat out a draw with relative ease.

On that evidence, the task facing the Sri Lankan bowlers will be a daunting one, but not impossible.

If they are to stand a chance at all, though, they will need to vastly improve on the fielding effort which has been put up by each of these teams so far.

Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, was dropped three times in the morning session yesterday, and probably considered himself unlucky when he eventually holed out for 89, when lunch was approaching. When Sri Lanka came out for their second innings, Tharanga Paranavitana, the opener, also offered up a simple chance, yet survived.

One other unplanned for factor could yet play a part. If the forecast showers do arrive, the ground staff will be under pressure.

This ground has lost more time to sandstorms than it has rain in the past, and they might have forgotten where they left the covers.



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