LONDON: The sight of Yasir Shah bowling Pakistan to victory against New Zealand in Dubai this week was doubtless a bittersweet one for the country’s millions of cricket-mad fans.
While they would have been overjoyed at the at the star spinner’s match figures of 14 for 184 — a return that ensured his side set up a do-or-die clash in Abu Dhabi next week — the fact their side is playing over a 1,000 km away means they cannot see their heroes in the flesh.
But there is also little doubt that the UAE is very much a home away from home for Pakistan and one in which they have enjoyed the sort of success other sides would crave.
In the eight years they have been hosting Tests in the Emirates Pakistan have played 31 times, winning 15, drawing 10 and losing just six. Across that period they have played 12 series and lost only one. That last stat alone illustrates that an away series in the UAE is one of the toughest around — across the same period Australia have lost two home series.
Earlier this year it was mooted that, with Pakistan still a no-go area for top-class sides since the 2009 terror attack on the visiting Sri Lankans, the side would base themselves in Malaysia. But thankfully for Yasir and Co. a new deal was struck between the Emirates Cricket Board (ECB) and the PCB that will see Pakistan remain in the UAE for the foreseeable future. The ECB even committed to their counterparts that they would significantly reduce the costs for hosting the matches.
While the side would prefer to play in front of their adoring fans in Karachi’s National Stadium or Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, there is little doubt that the impressive arenas in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are very good alternatives and no one best illustrates this than their brilliant leg-spinner.
His 14-wicket haul in Dubai saw the 32-year-old become the first bowler to take 100 Test wickets in the UAE. Yasir, like many of his teammates, has never played a Test on home soil, but from the moment he made his debut in Dubai against Australia in 2014 he has looked every inch the best leg spinner since Shane Warne. Those 109 wickets have come in just 16 Tests at an average of 24.16 — very good for any bowler, exceptional for a leg-spinner.
Yasir will be the key man as Pakistan head to the winner-takes-all clash against New Zealand in Abu Dhabi next week. But if he highlights anything, other than being the best spinner in world cricket at the moment, it is that the UAE has become as good a fortress as the talented team are likely to find away from their real home. And that alone explains why they are big favorites to seal their 13th series win in the Emirates next week.