In Pakistan’s 400th Test match in history, they were given their fourth triple centurion in the form of Azhar Ali.
The opener was breathless across five and a half sessions in Dubai and eased his way to 302 not out before Pakistan called it a day in their first innings.
It was a momentous knock on a grand occasion for his country and a landmark for Test cricket in only the second ever day-night match.
But as Azhar raised his bat to a standing ovation from everyone with the pleasure of having watched his innings, there was a feeling that the empty stands looking back at the majestic batsman were not the backdrop Azhar was deserving of.
Seen as the grand revival of Test cricket, there is a long way to go in the UAE even for this format with cricket’s most favourable day to be played here [Friday] seeing 2,400 people in attendance at its peak.
As delighted as Azhar was with his sumptuous knock, the absence of a packed crowd to soak up his brilliance was something that didn’t go unnoticed by the 31-year-old.
“I think if I had scored this at home it would have been a much better feeling about that or a much better crowd could have made this even a bit better but still 300 is a 300 and I would take that any day,” said the Lahore-born batsman.
“But, yeah, I would have loved more crowd coming in and watching a day-night Test match especially.”
Those supporter numbers are beyond Azhar’s control, but his knock was completely under his spell.
He was given a chance on 190, shelled at first slip off Royston Chase, but the other 657 balls he faced caused no alarm to the 31-year-old as he showed an enormous appetite for runs against a limp West Indies attack and in front of a sparse crowd.
Azhar was substitute fielder in one of those three other Pakistan triple tons, as a 17-year-old in home city Lahore as Inzaman-ul-Haq took New Zealand apart in his innings of 329.
And for Azhar, to be sitting alongside Inzaman, Younis Khan and Hanif Mohammad is some reward.
“The names who scored triple centuries have been exceptional players and world class players so I’m still working hard on my game but getting in that 300 list is a proud moment,” he said.
“It’s a great achievement scoring 300. For me it’s a really proud moment and I can’t really explain my feelings but I think the way the team and captain has supported me through the last few runs when I was nearing 300 was exceptional from them and it’s a big achievement. I will obviously remember it for the whole of my life.”
The first Test in Dubai between Pakistan and the West Indies starting today is a historic one. Not only is it the first day/night Test to be held in the UAE, but the first one in Asian conditions as well.
The relatively new concept of playing Tests under lights and with a pink ball is a daring experiment which I have maintained is a necessary step forward for the five day game. There is a lot of buzz around daynight Tests but teams don’t know exactly what to expect, especially in dry conditions.
The only day-night Test to be held so far was in Adelaide between Australia and New Zealand last year and the curators had to leave a lot of grass on the surface to ensure the pink ball retained its colour for as long as possible.
As a result, fast bowlers dominated, neither team managed to reach 250 and the game finished in three days. Pakistan and West Indies enter the game not knowing exactly how the game will pan out.
Players on both sides have admitted that the black seam on the ball makes it very difficult to pick spinners but what is also true is the pink ball tends to swing under lights and almost as soon as the sun goes down. So the bowlers – spinners, seamers or both – will have a big role to play in Dubai.
#PAKvWI— Express Sports (@IExpressSports) October 5, 2016
Pakistan vs West Indies T20I series: Pakistan win 3-0
Pakistan vs West Indies ODI series: Pakistan win 3-0
Tests begin October 13
The uncertainty surrounding the day-night endeavour, therefore, has levelled the playing field to a certain degree. In a regular day game, Pakistan would have been the clear favourites. They still hold the upper hand but the West Indies bowlers have a bit more of a chance.
Leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo struck form in the day-night warm-up game in Sharjah, picking up five wickets. Their fast bowlers can hope to get some movement under lights and if the ball starts zipping around, as it did in Adelaide, then it is anyone’s game.
Pakistan will be a bit careful. They completely dominated the T20 and ODI series and should be looking forward to another series whitewash. But the first Test poses a bit of a problem, not only due to the floodlit fixture but also because they will be missing their talismanic batsman Younis Khan.
In the latest ICC Test batting rankings Younis Khan's moved up 1 place to 4th. In the bowling rankings Yasir Shah's up to 6th place #Cricket— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) October 12, 2016
The 38-year-old is the backbone of Pakistan’s batting, alongside captain Misbah ul Haq, and with him recovering from dengue, Pakistan have a big hole to fill in the middle order. Pakistan’s bowling is in peak condition, with bowlers like Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Yasir Shah likely to rule the roost.
But in the absence of Younis, their batting loses some of its sheen and the onus will be on Azhar Ali and Misbah to share the bulk of the load as there are likely to be one or two debutants in the team.
Pakistan were recently the No1 Test side and they have reached near the top of the table after years of consistent displays against most teams in different conditions. The West Indies are languishing in eighth position and shouldn’t, on paper, pose much of a threat.
But the altered playing conditions, uncertainty about the pink ball, and absence of a heavyweight like Younis has made it a much more intriguing affair. Because otherwise, it seems like another contest between two totally mismatched sides.
Ahead of only the second day-night Test match in history, West Indies captain Jason Holder says he’s not daunted by the pink ball.
Both Pakistan and West Indies players have expressed concerns over the visibility of the ball’s seam but Holder thinks it’s just a matter of making an adjustment.
Who do you think will win the Test and what do you think about the pink ball?