It has produced an absorbing, hard-fought contest typical of the traditional game, but Sharjah's inaugural Test match has been played out before stands as barren as the desert that lies not far away.
While Pakistan amassed 493 and West Indies, even without the injured Brian Lara, responded strongly with 325 for 5 after three days, no more than a few hundred diehards have been scattered around stands usually filled to their 20,000 capacity for one-day internationals involving India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
They saw a sixth-wicket stand of 204 between Yousuf Youhana, whose 146 was his ninth Test hundred, and Rashid Latif, whose 150 was his first, lift Pakistan from an uncertain 178 for 5 on the first day to their imposing total.
It was the turn yesterday of the West Indies' sixth-wicket pair, left-handers Shivnarine Chanderpaul, in his 50th Test, and the 20-year-old Ryan Hinds, in his first, to steer the uncertain West Indies clear of the follow-on. They spent the last session together, adding 94 after Chris Gayle (68), Wavell Hinds (59) and Carl Hooper (56) failed to carry on to more sizeable scores when well set.
Chanderpaul, returning to the team after missing the recent tour of Sri Lanka with a back injury, was 45 at the end and the impressive Hinds, a Barbadian who captained the West Indies to the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka two years ago, was on 55.
Historic as it is – the fourth Test in the game's history to be contested on neutral territory – the event has generated appreciably more interest from the International Cricket Council's match-fixing unfixers than the sizeable immigrant population from the subcontinent for which the stadium was built to serve.
Closed-circuit cameras monitor comings and goings into the team rooms at the ground and through the foyer of the hotel where they are accommodated. A sign above the dressing-room door proclaims: "No Mobile Phones".
It is all part of the ICC's reaction to the bribery scandal involving deals with Indian bookmakers that broke two years ago, leading to the life bans on former Test captains Hansie Cronje of South Africa, Mohammed Azharuddin of India and Salim Malik of Pakistan.
Two retired Scotland Yard detectives, Robert Smalley and Bruce Ewan, have been lecturing the players on their mission, liaising with officials and shooing anyone away from where they shouldn't be. They are here as members of the ICC's Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU), set up under the direction of Lord Condon with a reported budget of over £3 million over three years.
Sharjah was cited in Condon's initial report to the ICC as one of the venues where illegal gambling on cricket thrives, and several Pakistanis have been implicated.Reuse content