x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Weather denies Sri Lanka a chance to level series

The rain-affected third Test in Sharjah ended in a draw, leaving Pakistan as series winners that saw them leapfrog their opponents in the ICC Test rankings.

Groundstaff remove excess water on the final day of the third and final Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Groundstaff remove excess water on the final day of the third and final Test match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.

As part of the process by which they monitor venues, the International Cricket Council’s operations department routinely ask their match referees to rate the facilities after every Test match.

The questionnaire asks their views on the standard of things like the playing surface, the dressing rooms and the scoreboard.

There is also a box for the quality of the covers.

Vitally important, no doubt, for Old Trafford in May, or Colombo in the monsoon season. For Sharjah Cricket Stadium, however, that particular criteria has always been redundant. The referees for matches played in the desert state will forever have asked themselves: “Covers? What covers?”

In all 205 international matches that have been played here over the past 26 years, never before, in the memories of the people who run the ground, had overs been lost due to rain. Until yesterday.

Back in April 1998, a sandstorm brought a brief halt to one of Sachin Tendulkar’s finest innings in the one-day colours of India, but never rain.

Given their lack of experience, the ground staff here proved commendably dexterous at manoeuvring the tarpaulin sheets on and off the pitch yesterday morning.

The showers were not severe enough to keep the players from warming up on the outfield, yet they kept them from starting until three and a quarter hours after the scheduled 10am start time.

The delay was just long enough to change the complexion of a game which had been delicately poised at stumps on day four.

It skewed Sri Lanka’s plans to the extent they were only able to give themselves 61 overs in which to try to bowl out Pakistan – around 10 or 15 overs less than they would have hoped for overnight.

So while this will be remembered as the first Sharjah match to be affected by rain, it was also the first ever draw on this ground.

That suited Pakistan. They have lost just one Test in the 10 they have played since the spot-fixing scandal first broke, and this 1-0 series win over Sri Lanka is another step in the right direction.

“We needed this,” Saeed Ajmal, who was their man of the series for his 18 wickets, said.

Misbah-ul-Haq, the captain, insisted his side had harboured ambitions of chasing their 255-run victory target, but were happy to man the barricades after they lost two early wickets.

“We were positive at the start, but losing early wickets meant we had to revise our plan,” he said. “It was important to win a Test series against a good team like Sri Lanka. It was a good achievement for our team.”

While Pakistan seem to have weathered their own storm, the tempest continues for Sri Lanka on the field. They have lost three successive Test series, and are within a win in the format in 14 matches since Muttiah Muralitharan, their great spinner, retired.

It does not rain but it pours for Tillakaratne Dilshan at present.

“It was disappointing rain washed out the first session,” Dilshan, the captain, said. “If we had played a full day, maybe it might have been different. I thought they might have tried to chase 255 in 60 overs, but it did not happen. The pitch was really good, so they could close the match out.”

pradley@thenational.ae