In December last year, looking out at a near empty ground in Abu Dhabi, a depressingly familiar sight outside of England and Australia was to be seen; a Test match unfolding with little gaze upon it.
And as Pakistan outplayed and outlasted England across three Test matches in the UAE, one former England captain used the Emirates as a prime example of dwindling crowds witnessed the world over when it came to the longest format of the game.
Michael Vaughan explained that Pakistan should play their home matches in Australia. It was a throwaway comment and at the time I wrote how it was ill-informed, drawing ire from Vaughan on Twitter.
Yes, the crowds were a concern – they still are in Test cricket – but it was no different to Colombo, the same as Kingston or Newlands.
Worse, it was a situation incredibly frustrating for those more familiar with the sight in the UAE than Vaughan and one that wasn’t to be solved by simply shifting a series somewhere else. It instead needed addressing at board room level and action taken from the grassroots up.
A deleted tweet later, Vaughan mentioned that day-night Tests would be a hit in the UAE, a point I finally found some substance in and was inclined to agree with.
@BarnabyRead Would be a perfect place for Day/Night Test cricket... Look forward to the crowds arriving over the weekend...!!!— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) October 14, 2015
Fast forward eight months and, despite the reluctance of the West Indies Cricket Board, Pakistan announced Thursday its first day-night Test against the West Indies in Dubai from October 13-17.
It will be a landmark moment for cricket as the game continues to pursue the venture as a way of getting people through turnstiles and which was trialled with great success in Australia at the Adelaide Oval in October 2015.
Not only that, it will be a seminal moment for Pakistan as their first day-night Test. But it is the UAE that will be under the greatest scrutiny, and rightly so.
For the seven years that the UAE has hosted Pakistan cricket it has been bereft of crowds of note for five-day matches, despite the vast expat population from the country and the success Misbah-ul-Haq’s side has had in despatching all before them here.
Twenty20 Internationals and ODIs have fared better but even then a sold-out stadium isn’t guaranteed despite their popularity among fans from the sub continent.
However, a pink ball and a later start to Tests could be the shot in the arm this country needs as it clings on to regular international cricket playing out across its storied Sharjah stadium and its younger siblings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
This series was strongly considered to be hosted in Sri Lanka as the Pakistan Cricket Board looked at cheaper alternatives to the UAE.
Monsoon season put an end to that but sky high hiring fees and a relationship strained by the Emirates Cricket Board’s decision to initially favour the Masters Champions League over the Pakistan Super League earlier this year do not make for great reading.
Very little returns have been seen on PCB investments in the country, ticket sales for Tests largely only in their hundreds and peaking in the small thousands.
The setting sun need not bring darkness though, and the day-nighter is an opportunity to be seized by both the PCB and ECB. It can be the light at the end of the tunnel for all parties.
If the ECB remains serious about continuing its relationship with the PCB and proving itself as a viable hub for international cricket – the dream remains to host a World Cup and the Twenty20 version is a real possibility if it returns to a two-year cycle – then it must take action and strike while the iron is hot.
Those Pakistani expats previously mentioned, largely from the labour and service industry, must be engaged.
So too must the widespread residents from cricketing hotbeds such as England, Australia, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa who earn a living in the UAE.
Transport to and from grounds, reduced or free entry to children and greater advertising across traditional and new media are a must, initiatives that will need to be backed by the PCB but should be aggressively pushed on the ground by their Emirates counterparts.
Whether or not that transpires is another matter and time will only tell whether day-night Tests can inspire people to turn out in force come the second week of October.
Hopefully, Vaughan will have been proven right and we can all look forward to better relationships across the board and across the Boards, with Pakistan’s exiles given the crowds their newly crowned world No1 status deserves.
The series, which runs from September 23 to November 3, includes three Twenty20 internationals and as many one-day and Tests, the highlight being the day-night Test in Dubai in October.
Australia hosted the first-ever day-night Test at Adelaide against New Zealand in November last year, with high attendance figures as it drew fans who could watch the match after their working hours.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) is attempting to revive waning interest in the five-day game with the day-night innovation, and termed the Adelaide Test a “big success”.
Australia will also host two day-night Tests against South Africa and then Pakistan during their home season, starting in November.
Pakistan’s plans to host the day-night Test were made after they agreed to play Australia. The West Indies Test will give them their first taste of playing an international match with the new pink balls used in the day-night Test last year.
West Indies tour to Pakistan Tour Itinerary announced https://t.co/26p8Itx5K4— PCB Official (@TheRealPCB) August 25, 2016
The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said in a statement it “will host its first ever day-night Test match from October 13-17 to be played with the pink ball under lights at the Dubai cricket stadium”.
The West Indies will tune up for the day-night Test with a three-day side game in Sharjah, also under lights.
The PCB had offered to host the Twenty20s in Pakistan, but the West Indies refused on security fears.
Pakistan has not hosted any international cricket — barring three one-days and as many Twenty20s against minnows Zimbabwe in May last year — since an extremist attack on the Sri Lankan bus in March 2009.
Despite playing all their matches in the neutral venues of the UAE, Pakistan rose to number one in the Test rankings earlier this week after drawing their four-match series against England 2-2.
20-September WI v ECB XI warm-up T20 Dubai
23-September 1st T20 Dubai
24-Septemeber 2nd T20 Dubai
27-September 3rd T20 Abu Dhabi
30-Septemeber 1st one-day International – D/N Sharjah
02-October 2nd one-day International – D/N Sharjah
3-4 October WI v ECB XI two-day warm-up match Dubai
05-October 3rd one-day International – D/N Abu Dhabi
07-9 October 3-day match – WI Vs. PCB Patrons XI – D/N Sharjah
13-17 October 1st Test Match – D/N Dubai
21-25 October 2nd Test Match Abu Dhabi
30-October-3 November 3rd Test Match Sharjah
The joy on Misbah-ul-Haq’s face as he broke into the now famous celebration of press-ups when he recently completed his first century at Lord’s was more than an obvious reflection of achieving a fantastic milestone at the Home of Cricket.
What was amazing to note was that a man much maligned for his slow, steady and calculated approach to batting could have inspired such adulation from millions of cricket fans watching that moment live on television, or the privileged few present at Lord’s. Misbah’s name carved out on the honours board at the Home of Cricket was yet another step towards confirmation of the batsman’s importance to Pakistan cricket, with more to follow by the end of the Test series against England.
The sad reality is that in today’s world, Test cricket is fast becoming largely irrelevant to a global audience brought up on cheap thrills supplied by an unlimited amount of fast-paced games played in coloured clothing. The grim fact is that up until the summer of 2016, to many, the most memorable innings from Misbah-ul-Haq would have been in a losing cause during the 2007 World Twenty20 final against India in South Africa or the semi-final against the same opposition in the World Cup of 2011.
Constantly raising the bar for commitment in terms of fitness and consistently scoring runs in Test cricket, Misbah at the age of 42 continues to inspire his teammates by playing match changing innings as he did at Lord’s, or the one when he bludgeoned his way to equal the record for the fastest Test century which he achieved against Australia in Abu Dhabi.
However, apart from runs scored to save his team from disaster, there is a far more important but intangible aspect of Misbah’s presence for the Pakistan team. Whilst the statisticians may not readily appreciate this quality, it is left to seasoned cricket analysts to point out what Misbah means to the Pakistan Test team. In recent remarks on the Pakistan captain’s role, Nasser Hussain likened him to “a father-figure” and spoke about how the players trusted him and were buying into his ideas to deliver the best for the team and the country.
But the Misbah success story did not start with the tour of England in 2016. It began the day he took over the team captaincy in the aftermath of a near existential crisis which hit Pakistan cricket. This was the summer of 2010, when the actions of the trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir threw Pakistan cricket into chaos. Had it not been for Misbah’s calm leadership, the downward spiral would have continued for a very long period of time.
Unperturbed by the challenges faced since that dark period, Misbah has continued to toil away with the results of his many years of endeavour plain to see with Pakistan crowned as the ICC’s top ranked team. Being amongst the top three teams would have been achievement enough but attaining the number one position is nothing short of a feat of gargantuan proportions, especially when one considers that the team has not played a single Test match at home since March 2009 when the visiting Sri Lanka team was the subject of a terrorist attack in Lahore.
It would have been easy for him under such circumstances to walk away, citing any number of reasons including his own age, but Misbah with his single-minded determination to achieve greatness for his country has ably lead a team of mainly young players through nineteen series away from home. During this period, there has been no shortage of criticism of a very personal nature from experts of all descriptions but by using his own performances and calm demeanour to absorb any negativity about his team or himself, he has ensured that neither he nor his team lost focus of the goal of restoring the Pakistan side to its previous greatness.
In stark contrast to the touring teams from Pakistan of yesteryear which were prone to all forms of controversies leading to extreme embarrassment for the country, the hallmark of Misbah’s reign has been a controversy-free period where Pakistan players have thrived and emerged as world beaters.
For this feat alone, Misbah deserves unreserved accolades and it is this reason that a mere hint by the veteran about leaving the team to rest his tired shoulders caused ripples of concerns amongst followers and administration alike resulting in clarifications and reassurances by the much respected Test captain that he would most likely be around to guide his team during the upcoming tours of New Zealand and Australia.
Due to his unwavering commitment to Pakistan cricket and its image, Misbah has been likened to the great Imran Khan and just like the captain who lead his team to victory in the 1992 World Cup, Misbah has had the honour to be at the helm when his team has been crowned as the top Test team in the world. And whilst Pakistan’s stay at the top may well be short-lived due to the vagaries of the ranking system, it is clear that his determination to lead his team towards more glory shows no sign of diminishing.
He continues to guide his players with the same fervour as before and his fitness is an example to many younger stars in the team. There is a legacy of excellence in his performances as a player and as a captain which any mortal will struggle hard to maintain or imitate. Whether he decides to hang up his boots after the England series is moot but what can never be doubted is that Misbah will continue to give his best until he plays his last innings for Pakistan.
Respected by pundits, fans and fellow cricketers around the world, Misbah’s name will go down in Pakistan cricketing history as the man who took the Pakistan Test team from rock bottom to the top of the world.