Pakistan Tour (UAE) 2015
Sharjah Test Review
I arrived in Dubai on the day before the Test started, booking into the same hotel as Higgy & Robbo – Sharjah being a dry state, no-one could bear the thought of a whole week without grog so we’re in Dubai. Sharjah, though, is only 30 minutes by taxi.
Tonight was the Rugby World Cup final between the Convicts and the Kiwis. Kicking off in the afternoon at Twickenham, it was handy evening viewing in Dubai. Higgy, Robbo and I watched it perched on stools in the crowded sports bar of the City Max Hotel, the Barmy Army hotel, though most of them seemed to have decided to view it elsewhere. There was no doubt who the bar wanted to win. Every time the Kiwis added to their score there was loud cheering. Me too: the only good Convict is a beaten one, whatever the sport.
Higgy had kindly organised for me to travel to Sharjah on the Barmy Army minibus as they had a spare seat so I set off at 8 o’clock from my hotel for the 20 minute walk to the City Max. I’ve never really fraternised with the Barmy Army but this tour I travelled with them and sat with them at the cricket. I think it is pretty much the hard core here. Leafy, of course, and Andy. Chris from Scunthorpe is a glutton for punishment. She is doing 17 Test matches in a row! – all of the West Indies last year, all the Tests in England this summer, all the ones out here, & everything in South Africa. That is dedication. Robbo and Higgy had their flags draped over the balcony. So too did blunt old bald-headed Yorkshireman, Henry from Perth, who was Boycottian in his opinions, when he was awake. His Barmy Army colleagues took great delight in photographing him with his eyes closed and head down and posting the pix on Facebook.
I quite liked the Sharjah Cricket Stadium. It's a bit battered but the stands are varied & therefore interesting. All are covered. We were in the Grand Stand & had shade all day.
Buttler at last has been dropped after very poor batting form and Bairstow takes the gloves. Taylor comes in after a 3 year gap and so does Patel as Wood is injured. Andy Thompson’s quiz question of the day was “when did England last field three spinners” – I forget the answer.
Misbah won the toss, again! He looked quite apologetic when he gave Cook a consoling pat on the back. When Jimmy had bowled his first ball the Barmy Army rose en masse to sing Jerusalem, gestures and all. It almost seemed as if Jimmy waited for them to finish. He took Azhar’s wicket in his next over, 7-1, and Samit came on early to bowl to the right handers. On the whole in the first two sessions the spinners were pretty wayward with too much on leg, though those who watched the tele said it was taking a lot of spin. Broad though was magnificently accurate: by lunch he'd bowled 7 overs for 4 runs and 1 wicket. The scoring rate was slow, though. At lunch they were 87-2: honours even.
Catering at the ground is very sparse though in view of the small numbers attending that's not surprising. Young guys come round offering Pepsi or tepid water and there’s a KFC. However, the resourceful Andy Thompson had discovered that the Sharjah Wanderers Rugby Club, just 20 minutes walk away, is the only place in the state that serves grog! It is a curious anomaly, the land for a rugby club having been given by the sheikh in the 1970’s to the British Government. British laws apply, so grog but no smoking. How good is that! And, yes, they do play rugby in this scorching heat! So a batch of us, including Higgy and another Barmy Army groupie, Gemma, but not Robbo trooped off down the dusty highway in search of a beer. But the Barmy Army demographic was against us: Andy had sciatica and someone else was grumbling about their knees so after 10 minutes Andy hailed a taxi and five of us piled in, leaving poor Higgy and Gemma to walk. Eoin, the Irish club secretary sorted out temporary membership for us, filled out in triplicate, of course. He turned the TV to the cricket and we settled in for a pint and some of their excellent grub. Gemma threw a wobbly about being left out of the taxi and didn’t join us after all.
The hardcore Barmy Army lads stayed there for the afternoon but I walked back to the ground for the afternoon session. We did rather well. By tea, they'd lost 3 more wickets, though a good partnership between Misbah & Sarfraz threatened a good score. Then with 9 overs left in the day Cook took the new ball. Jimmy & Broad were magnificent & suddenly they were all out for 234. Once again, it was our seamers and not the spinners that had done the damage.
The downside to this innings was that Stokes has damaged his shoulder. Standing short, just backward of square, he flung himself into the air to grab at a sweep shot from Sarfraz off a Patel full toss. Amazingly he got to the ball with his left hand, although he couldn’t hold on to it. What a catch that would have been! But he landed on his right shoulder and was writhing on the ground in pain before walking off with his arm in a sling made from his shirt. He is unlikely to play much further part in this match.
Cook and Moeen survived the two overs left and England ended the day 6-0. We would have taken that at the start of the day when we lost the toss.
Higgy and Robbo decided on a quiet night in but using a second-hand Time Out in Dubai I located a very swanky restaurant in down town and ate handsomely al fresco in their courtyard listening to an oud player.
I set off from hotel at about 8 o’clock to do the 20 minute walk to the Barmy Army hotel to cadge another lift in their minibus. There’s a body count in the hotel foyer as we get reports of who has suffered too much from the night before and won’t be coming today. That’s good for me because it means there’ll always be space.
The cricket began with a few wristy shots from Moeen but he was soon out wafting at Malik. The experiment as opener has, predictably, not worked. But Cook put on 50 with Bell and it was 87-1 at lunch.
Lunch again at the Rugby Club. Again I left soon so I could to get back to the ground, on my way back calling in at a marvellous Lebanese bakery to get some of their sticky sweet baklava-type things, which cost me about 50p.
Cook was out soon after lunch, quickly followed by Root. But Bell and Taylor put on 42. Bell fell soon after tea, surely well past his sell-by date. Then the most impressive partnership of the match ensued as Taylor & Bairstow, running like greyhounds between the wickets, took us to 222-4. This was an important game for these two guys to stake their claim to a regular place in the team. Taylor for Bell, I’d say: he looks to me to have the bottle that Bell has never really had. Anyway, bat till teatime tomorrow and we are in a very strong position.
Back in Dubai I consulted my Time Out and opted for a restaurant called Al Mallah in the Satya district – never heard of it. The taxi man had and said he was often asked for this restaurant. I had phoned in advance to book a table but was politely told that they didn’t take bookings. When I got there it was obvious why. Al Mallah is a kind of middle eastern fast food restaurant on the corner of a busy street. Waiters in green shirts lounge about with just enough energy to take your order. I took a seat and ordered a plate of lambs brains. Ever eaten lambs brains? I like things exotic and brains are no exception but to be honest this dish of plain grey spongey coils of brain was not the most appetising.
Looking for a taxi, I saw a barbers shop so having time to spare I called in, as I like to do, for a shave. My god, I had the works: shave, face massage, head massage, which involved some painful tugs on my arms which seemed to get wrapped round my back, and a sort of steamed facial. Pampering probably makes the experience sounds more gentle than it was but it was very invigorating. The barbers was run by Pakistanis who were delighted to know I was here for the cricket. They told me the shop was owned by Shahid Afridi. Who knows? Certainly, on their mobiles they had photos of themselves in the shop with Afridi and Misbah.
I changed my routines a bit today. I got my own taxi to Sharjah which takes about 30 minutes. It doesn’t cost much more than the Barmy Army coach and it means that I don’t have a 20 minute walk to their hotel. Also they seem to have this great desire to get there well before the start. The taxi dropped me by the Lebanese bakery and I ate a delightful little plate of samosas and bhajis for my breakfast.
My optimism about the state of the game last night didn’t take into account the flakiness of the England middle order. Taylor was soon out and then it was a slow progression of wickets with brief resistance from Samit & Rashid. In the end it was left to Broad to get 10 more valuable runs with Stokes who valiantly held up one end, his right arm clearly not up to much.
At lunchtime I decided to go native and discovered a little cafe on the busy, dusty road near the ground that serves local food & fresh pressed orange juice.
In the afternoon our 72 lead disappeared with excellent partnership of 101 between the Pakistani openers. Neither seamers nor spinners looked at all threatening. Then Azhar was run out, soon followed by Malik and then just before the end a very scratchy Younis Khan was lbw to Broad. Hafeez, though, was patient and untroubled and is on 97. At 146-3 the game is still in the balance but you'd rather be Pakistan than England.
Dubai has a very efficient and modern metro system which I used tonight to take me into the financial centre where I had seen a well recommended restaurant. I didn’t find it but ended up in a very up-market restaurant on the 3rd floor of a 30 floor hotel – they do things big here. An Arab man, middle-aged, overweight & self-important, dressed in flowing white robes with the white headdress with a black ring on top that they wear, arrived at a table by me and was very exacting and particular about the table position with the waitress, who seemed to know him and was fawning over him. The reason became apparent when a group of young things, late teens, I would say, arrived to join him, 5 girls and a boy. One of the girls, who sat next to him, was very intimate with him. I imagined that she was his daughter and that he was hosting a party for her friends. The others were much more formal with him. The interesting thing was how they were dressed. The daughter and a couple of the other girls were dressed Arab style in black with head scarves. One of them, who was very beautiful, jet black eyes and fine features, was sitting next to a boy with whom she was engaged in close and private conversation, darting him sultry looks, as if they were going out together. But he was the antithesis of the fat Arab - modern haircut, shaved at the sides & dressed in black jeans and the most colourful tee-shirt with Homer Simpson images and other things in bright oranges and greens. And one of the other girls was dressed very sexily, even by our standards, with bare shoulders and low cut décolletage. The youngsters all had phones which they looked at a lot and used to take pix of the food. It really did seem like East meeting West, the new Dubai & the old together at one table. A changing world in front of my eyes ... they drank water.
I caught the metro back and inadvertently got into a carriage full of women. One woman politely came up to me and suggested I move to the next carriage because I might get fined as this was a women only carriage! Whoops!
I took my taxi in to Sharjah, passing on the multi-lane highways the streams of traffic heading for Dubai. Dubai is definitely the city of the car and they are all new. God knows where the second hand cars end up: certainly not in Dubai. And although there seems to be an enormous flow of traffic, with the Emirati efficiency that I was beginning sneakily to admire, there don’t seem to be massive traffic jams. The traffic light system holds you for a long while but when the lights change to green off you go.
Hafeez and Misbah, who really does lead from the front, solid and reliable with that blunt style of his, put on 93 and started to take the game away, although after they had gone progress did slow a bit. Our spinners were innocuous - too many bad balls - but Broad and Anderson were always threatening. However, they couldn't do it all. In the end a chase of 284 could have been worse. We've never chased that down in Asia. Moeen started brightly but then the inevitable happened. Bell was soon bowled (gotta go!) Root looked scratchy and Cook calm but at 43-2 victory is a long way away. Survival more like.
Tonight I went to a Lebanese restaurant at the Crowne Plaza in the Emirates Towers area which is downtown Dubai where all the skyscrapers are. The architecture at night when they are lit up is quite awe-inspiring. The street, a five or six lane highway either way, that you can only cross by the overhead bridges at the Metro interchanges, is incredibly busy and even the Metro is packed at 10.30 at night. They served me a most lavish set menu banquet that started with tabbouleh, hummus, kibbeh (a yoghurty dip) with half a dozen smoked salmon rolls, two massive king prawns, parcels of rice wrapped in vine leaves & flatbread. Then out came meat balls & pekoras. Followed by kebabs of lamb, beef & chicken. And finished by an enormous bowl of fruit with grapes the size of plums and a plate of sticky Lebanese sweets. All for me. I spent the meal people watching a table of six people, young ex-pats mainly, four from the UK, including a girl, and a German guy who was more sophisticated and confident than the others. They were with an Arab of the same age. I heard talk of Masters degrees and work in other countries and thought they must have been an office group of clever young things.
It wasn’t even survival! Root soon went. Taylor too. Bairstow & Patel followed in quick succession. At 85-6 there was no real hope though Rashid put on 47 with Cook. It was 120-7 for lunch and the game was pretty much up, so, much to Chris’s disgust, I left the ground, took a taxi back to Dubai and watched the final rites in the Holiday Inn sports bar. There was a brief flash from Broad and then, fighting spirit this, from the team and him, Stokes came in but when Cook was out it really was the end.
The difference between the teams was the spinning attacks. Theirs took 17 wickets in the match and ours 8. That and Hafeez's innings won the game. Pakistan deserved to win and they are now No 2 behind SA. Hopefully the silly experiment with Moeen is at an end and Bell's career is over (We now know it is. ed.) and he'll be replaced by Taylor.
Coming back early also gave me a bit of time to explore Dubai. Dubai is divided by a river, known as Creek. I am on the Bur Dubai side and the other side is Deira, which is the slightly older area, though that is relative as they both have a large amount of modern development. I walked down to the Creek from my hotel and hired a river boat, just me & my Bangla Deshi boatman, who took me for an hour up the river and back. I sat at the prow, taking pictures. In the dying evening light as the sun sank big and red over Bur Dubai it was very pleasant. I got him to drop me off on the Deira bank and spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering through the souk, which is the market area with loads of little shops. It was busy & hustley. I had some spare time before I was ready to eat so I went for a shave. It takes much longer than if I did it myself but I like the pampering. I am not only shaved but my skin is exfoliated and I have had an Indian head massage. Lovely!
I realised, as I walked down to the Creek-side that I had come here when I was in Dubai in 2012. I was struck by how differently I feel about the place. Last time my hotel was a long way from the centre so I only experienced Dubai as a load of flash buildings in the desert which I came to once or twice during my stay. This time I am much more in the thick of it. There’s none of the chaos of the Indian sub-continent. There’s not the poverty, though taxi drivers & cleaners & the lower orders, all foreigners from the sub-continent or the Philippines, work long hours, live in cramped conditions and often only see their families when they go home once a year. I haven’t seen one beggar. The streets, even away from the main drag, are probably tidier than English ones. So it’s a very orderly and prosperous place. I see that now as a virtue rather than a lack of character. I quite admire it and I enjoyed the experience of Dubai much more than I did last time. I liked it.