Test cricket in an adopted home: Pakistan’s UAE experience

June 23, 2024

Test cricket in an adopted home: Pakistan’s UAE experience


he West Indies were scheduled to tour Pakistan for a Test series in the winter of 2001/02. However, following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11th September 2001, and the subsequent ongoing military action in Afghanistan, the series had to be moved to another location.

Pakistan chose the UAE as its adopted home venue for the Tests against the West Indies and a proposed two Test series against them was arranged for January/February 2002. This was the beginning of Test cricket in the Emirates. Both matches were played at Sharjah which housed the only suitable cricket stadium in the UAE at the time and which had already hosted a large number of ODI’s involving all major international cricketing teams.

Pakistan won both Tests comfortably with large, convincing margins. Pakistan’s batting heroes were Rashid Latif in the opening Test and Younis Khan in the next one, while the bowling honours were shared between Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar.

Pakistan’s next Test outing was against New Zealand who were due to pay a visit in April/May 2002. The tour was arranged as a replacement for the three Test series which had originally been scheduled for September/ October the previous year, but had to be cancelled in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Test cricket in an adopted home: Pakistan’s UAE experience

As the Afghanistan security situation had eased sufficiently, Pakistan’s New Zealand Test series began on home turf in Lahore. Pakistan won the opening Lahore Test comprehensively and were strong favourites to repeat their success in the second Test in Karachi. However, on 7th May, a day before this Test was due to start, there was a bomb blast close to the hotel in which the New Zealand team were staying. This suicide bomb attack took fourteen lives, including that of eleven French engineers. The New Zealand team’s physiotherapist Dayle Shackel also received a minor cut on his forearm from flying glass. Not surprisingly, the tour was called off.

Pakistan’s next Test opponents were Australia who were on course to tour in October 2002. The Aussies expressed reservations about the security situation in Pakistan and hence the matches were relocated. The UAE was once again chosen as Pakistan’s alternate home venue and two Test matches were played at Sharjah which were both won easily by Australia. A third Test was played on neutral territory in Sri Lanka.

As the security scenario in Pakistan returned to normal Test cricket resumed on domestic soil. The next interruption to it came seven years later in March 2009, when a bus carrying the visiting Sri Lankan team to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore became the target of a gun attack. Pakistan again became off limits to visiting teams and remained so for over ten years, resuming again in September 2019 with a visit by the Sri Lankan side.

During these ten years Pakistan again chose the UAE as their temporary home and played multiple series against touring teams from England, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies. The newly constructed Dubai International Cricket Stadium and the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi now teamed up with Sharjah to provide three international Test venues in the UAE.

To begin their second tryst in the Emirates, Pakistan faced off versus South Africa in a high scoring series in the winter of 2010. Both Tests of the two match rubber were drawn. In the first Test Pakistan were set a victory target of 451 and had reached 343 for 3 before time ran out. Younis made an unbeaten century. In the second Test both teams had a run feast in their first innings. Pakistan were eventually asked to get 354 runs in under 70 overs in order to win and chose to safely bat out the allotted time without making a serious bid for victory.

The following year Sri Lanka were Pakistan’s Test opponents in the UAE. In the first of three Tests Pakistan got a huge first innings lead of over 300 runs courtesy of a double century from Taufiq Umar, but Sri Lanka fought back with a double ton from Kumar Sangakkara to draw the match. Pakistan won the second Test, helped by a hundred from Azhar Ali and a fine bowling performance from Saeed Ajmal. The third Test was again drawn, with centuries from Sangakkara and Younis Khan in a rain hit match. Pakistan won the series 1-0.

Test cricket in an adopted home: Pakistan’s UAE experience

England were the visitors in 2012. They were defeated emphatically in the opening Test when they had no answer to Saeed Ajmal’s guile. Ajmal took 7 for 55 in the first English innings and 10 for 97 in the match as England managed just 192 and 160 runs respectively in their two outings. Pakistan prevailed in the second Test as well as England were bundled out for merely 72 in their second innings when chasing a very modest victory target of 145 runs. Despite making just 99 in their first knock, Pakistan won the third test as well, with a second innings fight back built on centuries from Azhar Ali and Younis Khan. Pakistan whitewashed England 3-0.

South Africa toured the UAE in 2013. Pakistan took a 1-0 lead in the two Test series by beating the visitors inside four days in the opening Test. Both Misbah ul Haq and Khurram Manzoor recorded centuries. South Africa easily prevailed by an innings in the second Test despite a brave hundred from Asad Shafiq in Pakistan’s second knock. Honours for the series were shared 1-1.

The South African series was followed by one against Sri Lanka. The opening Test was drawn with hundreds from Misbah and Younis and a good bowling performance from Junaid Khan. Despite rain, Sri Lanka won the second Test as Pakistan put up a poor show with the bat. However, they bounced back to win the third Test with a solid batting display that included centuries by Ahmed Shehzad and Azhar Ali. The series was drawn 1-1.

Australia were the visitors in the winter of 2014. Pakistan recorded a telling victory by 221 runs in the opening Test. Younis scored a century in each innings and there were hundreds from Sarfaraz Ahmed and Ahmed Shehzad too, while the spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah wove their own magical web with the ball. Pakistan won the second Test even more comprehensively by 356 runs. They ran up scores of 570/6 declared and 293/3 declared in their two innings and bowled Australia out for just 261 and 246 runs respectively in their two knocks. Misbah and Azhar Ali both scored a century in each innings and Younis made a double ton. Misbah’s second hundred established records for the fastest Test fifty in terms of balls faced and equaled Viv Richards mark for the fastest Test century in the number of deliveries played. Misbah took just 21 balls to get to his fifty and 56 balls to reach his hundred. Pakistan simply annihilated Australia 2-0 in the series.

The series against Australia was followed by one versus New Zealand. Pakistan’s batsman continued with their rich batting form in the first Test. A score of 566/3 declared in the first innings and 175/2 declared in the second ensured a decisive 248 runs triumph. Ahmed Shehzad, Misbah and Younis all scored hundreds in the first innings and Hafeez got a century in the second after making 96 in the first knock. The second Test was drawn with a century by Sarfaraz and a good performance by the spinning duet of Yasir and Zulfiqar. In the third Test, New Zealand turned the tables on Pakistan with an innings win built around a mammoth total of 690. Pakistan managed only 351 and 259, with hundreds from Hafeez and Asad Shafiq going in vain. The series ended 1-1.

Pakistan lined up against England in the winter of 2015. The first Test ended in a thrilling finish as England just failed to reach a winning target of 99, ending on 74/4 when the overs ran out. Earlier, both sides had posted huge first innings scores of 500 plus. Shoaib Malik with 245 and Asad Shafiq scored centuries for Pakistan while Alistair Cook made 263 for England.

England narrowly failed to save the second Test as their last wicket fell to their chief tormentor Yasir with just over six overs remaining in the match. Misbah and Younis both scored hundreds for Pakistan. The third Test followed the pattern of the second one, with the Pakistani spinners Yasir Shah and Shoaib Malik scripting a conclusive win. Hafeez’s also contributed with a big hundred. Pakistan won the series 2-0.

The opening Test of the West Indies visit in 2016 saw the first day/night Test match in the UAE and only the second in Test history. Pakistan won this game thanks to a monumental innings of 302 not out by Azhar Ali. The second Test was also won comfortably by Pakistan. A superb display of leg spin, with 10 wickets in the match, by Yasir Shah and yet another century by Younis laid the foundations for Pakistan’s success. West Indies emerged triumphant in the third Test by bowling Pakistan out cheaply in both innings. Pakistan edged the series 2-1.

Sri Lanka toured in 2017 and won the first Test in a nail biting finish when 16 wickets fell on the final day and Pakistan fell short of a modest winning target of just 136 by 21 runs. Excellent bowling by Yasir Shah and Mohammad Abbas went unrewarded. In the second Test fortunes swung both ways before Sri Lanka won. After conceding a first innings lead of 220, Pakistan bounced back into the match by dismissing Sri Lanka for just 96 in their second outing. However, despite a fighting century by Asad Shafiq they couldn’t cross the winning line and lost by 68 runs. Sri Lanka won the series 2-0.

Pakistan won their two Test series against Australia in 2018 by a 1-0 margin. In the opening Test Pakistan began with 482 in their first innings with tons by Mohammad Hafeez and Haris Sohail. Australia then slumped inexplicably from 142/0 to 202 all out with the debutant Bilal Asif taking 6 for 36. A fighting century by Usman Khwaja in their second knock eventually salvaged a draw for the visitors. Pakistan won the second Test emphatically with Australia managing only 145 and 164 in their two innings. Mohammad Abbas returned outstanding match figures of 10 wickets for 95 runs, with a five wicket haul in each innings.

Pakistan’s last series in the UAE was against New Zealand in 2018. The Kiwis won the opening Test as the Pakistan batting collapsed spectacularly for 171, while chasing a target of 176, losing their their last 6 wickets for just 24 runs. Pakistan won the second Test comprehensively by an innings. There were centuries from Babar Azam and Haris Sohail but the real highlight of the game was an outstanding, virtuoso bowling display from Yasir Shah who captured 14 wickets in the match including 8/41 in the first innings. In the third Test Pakistan squandered a first innings lead of 74 and capitulated tamely for just 156 when seeking a target of 280. New Zealand won this rubber 2-1.

There have been many outstanding batting performances in the UAE by Pakistani batters. The aggregate list is headed by Azhar Ali with 2537 runs from 27 Tests, with Younis close behind on 2484. Misbah and Asad Shafiq have also passed the 2000 run tally. Younis has the most centuries with 11 while Azhar and Misbah head the list of fifties with 16 each. The best average is Misbah’s 57.90 runs per innings with both Younis and Azhar also exceeding 50 runs per outing.

Yasir Shah has been Pakistan’s most successful Test bowler in the UAE by far, with an aggregate of 116 wickets in just 17 Tests. Saeed Ajmal, with his difficult to decipher combination of off spin and ‘doosras’, is second with a tally of 67 wickets from 12 Tests. Zulfiqar Babar is third in this list with 45 wickets, also from 12 games. Yasir Shah’s bag includes 8 fifers and 10 wickets in a match twice. Saeed Ajmal has 3 fifers and one 10 wickets in the match haul. Mohammad Abbas has the best average with his 27 wickets costing just 17.55 runs apiece. His tally also includes 2 fifers and a 10 wickets in a match return. Interestingly the top four wicket aggregates also belong to spinners.

By hosting Pakistan’s home Test matches for 35 Tests from 2002 to 2018, the UAE enabled Pakistan to survive as a major Test playing nation. It was also during this tenure in the UAE that Pakistan became the number one Test team in the world in August 2016. While the Pakistan team’s official sojourn brought Test cricket to the UAE, international cricket in the form of ODIs involving all the major Test playing nations had already been hosted in Sharjah since 1984. In fact even today Sharjah holds the world record for the most international matches played at any cricket ground in the world. It’s total of 296 international matches is unrivaled by any other cricketing venue.

Dr Salman Faridi is a senior surgeon, poet, sports aficionado and an avid reader with a private collection of over 7000 books.


Test cricket in an adopted home: Pakistan’s UAE experience