Sharjah is hosting its first test match in 9 years tomorrow for the 3rd and final encounter of this test series with Dilshan’s troops looking to square proceedings after being largely outplayed in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Sri Lanka have gone 13 tests without tasting victory, meanwhile for Pakistan they have been undefeated for 5 consecutive test series regardless of the outcome in Sharjah, however a 2-0 series win will push them above their opponents on the test rankings and they will enter the top 5 tier. With a 2 match series against Bangladesh scheduled in December as well Pakistan has been undefeated for 6 consecutive test series if results go as they should. 6 test series without a loss is the 2nd highest undefeated series streak by a Pakistan team after Imran Khan in the 80s and it’s not broken yet. What a job Misbah -ul-Haq and company have done and who could have thought this would be possible after that spot fixing fiasco? The future was looking excessively bleak, but reality has well and truly proved differently. The record in Sharjah results wise have been 2 wins and 2 losses for the hosts.
The hosts have posted 340 or more 8 out of the last 13 times in an innings. Under their previous captain they were demolished for fewer than 100 on 3 occasions during a test series. The average first innings total under the current captain is over 350.
Another stat regarding the batting is they have only lost 13 wickets per test on average in their last 9 tests.
Pakistan have posted above 400 in all of their last 3 tests.
Pakistan have had 6 individual centuries in 9 tests under Misbah's leadership. Previously they did NOT have a single one in the 9 tests before he took over under the leadership of Butt, Afridi and Yousuf combined.
Misbah’s first boundary in both tests has been from a six against a spinner.
The Sri Lankan replacement wicket keeper in the 2nd test was not only making his test debut, but was playing his 100th FC match.
Pakistan have taken 40 wickets in this series out of all which were possible whereas the opponents have only taken 18 out of a potential 40. The hosts have only been bowled out once whereas the visitors have been bowled out 4 times.
Saeed Ajmal needs 3 wickets to be in the lead for the leading wicket taker at test level in 2011 with 3 tests left for him maximum.
Saeed Ajmal has taken three 5 wicket hauls this year and been awarded 2 MOMs in his last 4 tests.
The test in Sharjah will also be the 40th between the countries and the 10th of Misbah as captain.
Abdur Rehman needed 6 wickets in this test to be the joint leading Pakistan bowler who is the quickest to 50 test wickets along with Mohammad Asif, Shabbir Ahmed and Waqar Younis. He stands a chance of being the quickest spinner to the feat.
Azhar Ali has 4 half centuries, 1 century and 2 unbeaten stays at the crease in his last 8 test innings. He currently is on the brink of breaking into Pakistan’s top 10 test averages.
Azhar Ali is yet to fail to reach a 50 when being dismissed in the UAE after 8 innings with 4 half centuries, 1 ton and 3 unbeaten stays. He averages 88 in this part of the world.
PLAY FOR A DRAW
Ensuring safety and playing out time will probably be key in Sharjah. We cannot expect the wicket to be as successful as the curator in Dubai produced. A win will be a bonus, but priority has to be on taking the series honours as comfortable as possible, especially if we have to bat last. We have to eliminate the chances of a Sri Lankan win out of the equation completely, before we can think about pressing for the win. Series victory means more than rankings promotion.
Hafeez: 6/10. Professor started off well in the first innings and played out the closing 9 overs on day 2 unharmed. He was dropped in the opening session on day 2, but eventually fell to a rough decision. He made it count in the 2nd innings and scored freely to ensure it did not go into the final day. He also broke the opening partnership in the 2nd innings by producing a beauty. Hafeez has scored 2 half centuries in this test series and scored 2 50s and 1 ton in his last 3 tests.
Taufeeq: 4/10. After a resilient display in Abu Dhabi, the left hander failed to back it up and was removed fairly cheaply in both innings. He was initially dropped in the 1st innings, but no damage was done. He also dropped a regulation chance on day 1 from Ajmal’s bowling fielding on the off side ring. Nonetheless, he was been consistent this year and we can let him off the hook.
Azhar: 10/10. Mr Reliable was exceptional and finally got that monkey off his back by reaching 3 figures on the 11th attempt after scoring 10 50s. He put on over 100 with Younis Khan for the 3rd wicket in the first innings and then continued the solid effort with captain Misbah before being dismissed exactly on 100 by a rough decision. He top scored in the first innings and was the key man behind Pakistan’s reasonable first innings lead. As always he was alert and chirpy at short leg under the helmet, he took a stunner in the first innings off Rehman’s bowling but while the decision was being doubled checked up stairs, Rehman as a slow bowler out of all people over stepped to deny him his 3rd wicket of the innings. Azhar has featured in 11 wins or draws in the 15 consecutive test matches he has played. 6 50s and 1 ton have come during winning causes whereas 4 50s have come in commendable draws. He clearly is an impact contributor. The 26 year old, who has an impressive grasp of English as we saw in his press conference has an average of 102 in this series.
The determined and gritty rock wall was influential in providing the solidity, stability, steadiness and direction to the innings on day 2 just like in Abu Dhabi when accompanied by Taufeeq by preserving wickets, building partnerships, occupying the crease for lengthy periods and wearing out the bowlers to set up the basis for further and easier accumulation on day 3. His application, gutsiness, mental toughness, temperament, fighting resilience and concentration was central to setting up the platform for Pakistan to move into a winnable position. Both times during this series Pakistan have only lost 1 and 3 wickets respectively on 2 day and added 232 and 239 to the overnight total over 3 sessions. A level of smartness was required to ensure they do not collapse and get Sri Lanka back in the game, but to set the foundations from where they can dictate terms by utilising game sense or adopting a disciplined approach, particularly on a wicket which you can trust and get value for your runs this was of paramount importance. Misbah and Mohsin Khan undoubtedly achieved what they were looking for here and Azhar Ali batted for the best part of a day during the process in getting to that goal on both occasions.
YK: 8/10. More slip catches and a first innings half century before playing on to a turning delivery from Sri Lanka’s skipper. He assisted Azhar Ali a great deal and looked settled and gutsy. As always he showed a fluent method for tackling the spinners and looked in control throughout with his bat always coming down early and looking to work the ball away with the angle and spin and defend tightly to anything which needed to be greeted with respect which he watched carefully and treated with caution with his neat technique. The knock was one which weared out Hearth as he grinded deep and got stuck in. This was his 9th half century of the year across all in the green shirt for the lion from Mardan.
Misbah: 7/10. This was his 4th test victory as captain and his 7th as a player. He averages 80 as a captain after 9 tests; in contrast he averages 34 as a player from 19 tests without being the captain. He was splendid with his slip catching during the opening session of the match and held on to absolutely anything which came his away to dismiss some prolific run getters in the first slip position which was where Hafeez was positioned in Abu Dhabi. With 20 international catches this year, 4 were added here during this impressive 9 wicket win. He battled hard in the closing session on day 2 and nearly went through the session without losing any wicket before Azhar Ali fell, but both took Pakistan into the lead and ensured they had a firm platform set where they could capitalise from. He also overcame the passages of play with the 2nd new ball unfazed with his unflappable temperament. Unlike in Abu Dhabi, here he was dismissed correctly in the 40s again by fishing at a wide delivery in the first few minutes of the 3rd day after battling hard for his runs the previous evening.
Shafiq: 8/10. His 3rd half century in 10 innings. He batted with positivity, intent and freedom to inject some impetus and momentum in the innings and advance the game forward. It was a considerably much better display than his heavily criticised slow scoring in Abu Dhabi. He also held on to the all important wicket of Kumar Sangakkara during the first innings when 2 wickets fell in consecutive deliveries. He successfully grabbed on to a lofted shot at mind on.
Adnan: 7/10. Just like Shafiq he played positively, but was unable to reach his first half century when he was the last man out to a flighted delivery from the Sri Lankan skipper. He drove with style through the off side and glanced anything fine from his legs. Out of all the Akmal’s he comes across as the one with the best and most compact defence. Yet another neat performance with the gloves for him as Pakistan is yet to lose in the 7 tests he has played.
Rehman: 6/10. Debatable selection and the only change in the team from that which was fielded in Abu Dhbai. He enticed a mistake from the former Sri Lankan captain in the first innings with his accuracy and guile and provided the all important breakthrough the very next ball after Ajmal dismissed Prasad with a doosra from around the wicket. His advance down the wicket to get off the mark against his opposite number was a foolish shot only for him to receive the dreaded death rattle and leave Adnan batting with the tail. Rehman removed the danger and in form batsmen again in the 2nd innings in the opening minutes of day 4 with a delivery which pitched in the rough patches outside the left hander’s off stump. The wily left arm spinner also produced a straighter one to shatter the furniture of Prasad immediately after tea when a frustrating 7th wicket partnership was beginning to flow and extend Sri Lanka’s lead. He varied his pace from 95 KPH to the low 70 KPH throughout his spells and kept the batsmen guessing. Pakistan have won 2 consecutive tests when both Ajmal and Rehman have been in the starting line up against top 8 ranked sides.
Gul: 6/10. Gul provided 3 top order wickets in the opening session of the test, but struggled to produce the goods in the 2nd innings and add many with the willow. He looked threatening in the first innings to trouble the Sri Lankan top order after they decided to make first use of the surface which back fired as Gul was on song.
Ajmal: 8/10. The undisputable magician was MOM, but his 3 in the first innings were all wrapping up the tail. Nonetheless, he produced the goods in the 2nd innings unlike in Abu Dhabi to end up with a tally of 8 after plugging away to a 5 for. The spin demon was also the night-watchman and managed to hang around for a frustrating 20. His fielding is also worth a mention as he managed to hold on successfully to an attempted pull shot from Sri Lanka’s keeper which was a key moment as this was the last recognised partnership. He is on track to be the leading bowler in 2011 in terms of wickets across all formats of the game very soon with his mysteries and variations. He currently is the leading wicket taker in the series and will want to finish it off that way.
Junaid: 8/10. The left arm quickie bowled whole heartedly with his exuberance and whippy action and is just 1 behind Ajmal for the leading wicket taker in the test series. He has dismissed Dilshan 3 times consecutively with a clean bowled, slip catch and LBW. He is turning out to be a bunny of this energetic 21 year old pacer. Noticeably, all his 4 wickets came when he was bowling around the wicket which is a dangerous angle as he uses the crease effectively and can angle the ball in, away and straighten it without straying by any stretch of the imagination. Having taken his wickets at an average of 22 on batting friendly pitches, the left armer surely can only get better?
Average: Approximately 7.1.
First test average approximation was: 6.