Bounce, seam, spin, clear foot marks and even a hint of swing on day one in Sharjah means one thing: this Test will not last five days.
While the drawn opener in Abu Dhabi and Pakistan’s win in Dubai went the distance, lasting long into their evening sessions, Sharjah’s pitch looks like ensuring this one concludes with a day to spare.
– David Lloyd: Moeem more useful at number eight
It’s certainly not unheard of here, with three of the seven Tests played in Sharjah ending with three or more sessions left in the match; Australia even won here inside two days back in 2002 having bowled out Pakistan for 59 and 53 in their two respective turns with the bat.
Out of all the Tests to be played in the stadium just one has been drawn (Pakistan against Sri Lanka three years ago), highlighting the curators’ knack for making a pitch that harbours a result.
The track for the concluding Test match of this series is no different, making it a fascinating prospect over the coming days as England search for a leveller and Pakistan plot a convincing 2-0 win.
WHAT’S THE PITCH LIKE?
Right now it has a bit of everything.
The early seam movement will likely not last but variable bounce will come more and more into play with low ‘shooters’ from the seamers already spotted on day one.
In terms of turn, this pitch seems to want it more than anything else. If Samit Patel is turning it past the outside edge of Younis Khan in the first session of the day then you know that Yasir Shah will be doing so as soon as the ball lands in his hands (post his mandatory settling overs of course).
It is already turning sharply and with two spinners each of slow left-arm, leg and off spin variety and the Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali angle over the wicket provides footmarks of a different kind, means all the slow bowlers will be greeted with encouragement by the deck.
WHO WILL IT BENEFIT?
While Pakistan will be licking their lips at the sight of Patel’s slow left-armers gripping in the pitch and Moeen Ali turning it sharply in sync with puffs of dust off the straight, England will be confident of their own chances for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the ball seamed on day one as James Anderson in particular, used his incredible armoury to cause all kinds of problems. If there is one seamer in the world who can extract the most out of a wicket, it is Anderson and he will have a big role to play here.
England have also picked three spinners – one leg, one slow left-arm and one off for the first time since they played Pakistan in Lahore 15 years ago – and at this rate they will be in the game for the majority.
With that being said, the tourists will also be incredibly worried about Pakistan’s spin options, Yasir Shah in particular.
The world’s best spinner will have watched today’s play with the grin of a Cheshire cat, knowing that he could prove the difference.
He will be even more encouraged having watched Adil Rashid turn it square inside the first 60 overs of the opening day.
Zulfiqar Babar’s record in the fourth innings will also be crucial, while Ali and Riaz will know they will have to replicate the efforts of Anderson and Stuart Broad in order to ease the burden on their slow bowlers.
HOW LONG WILL IT LAST AND WHO WILL WIN?
Neck firmly on the line, we’re going to say an England win by the afternoon session on the fourth day.
Pakistan certainly have the edge bowling second time around but having bowled out Pakistan for 234, England will be in pole position if they can get 100 runs ahead.
While Sarfraz Ahmed and Misbah did deny England for a while late on day one, Pakistan’s recent record lower down the order once again saw their tail offer little form of a wag.
England should be able to go beyond Pakistan if they apply themselves and the additions of James Taylor and Patel means they bat even deeper, something Pakistan cannot say themselves.
Shah will definitely have a part to play but much will depend on whether he can make a significant impact in England’s first innings.
England, smarting from first being denied by light in Abu Dhabi and then defeat in Dubai on the back of one bad session, will be hell bent on coming away with a tied series and would be deserving if they can win here.
It will not be easy but they have never been more prepared to do so.
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