Spin king Yasir Shah turns Pakistan’s UAE home into a fortress

Yasir Shah has taken 109 Test wickets in the UAE. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2018
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Spin king Yasir Shah turns Pakistan’s UAE home into a fortress

  • Pakistan have lost only one series in the UAE since 2010.
  • Winner-takes-it-all clash against New Zealand set for next week.

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.


Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

Updated 22 February 2019
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Petra Kvitova positive ahead of Dubai final against Belinda Bencic

  • World No. 4 wins third three-setter of the week beat Hsieh Su-wei and claim place in the final.
  • Swiss star Bencic deals a forehand smash to Svitolina's chances of unprecedented hat-trick.

LONDON: If Petra Kvitova does get her hands on the Dubai trophy against Belinda Bencic on Saturday, she will be quick to admit she did it the hard way.
The two-time Wimbledon champion was once again made to toil at the Aviation Club as she finally overcame Hsieh Su-Wei 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her third three-setter in four days and came about as much through sheer grit and determination as any superior groundstrokes or serves.
“Yeah, it was (tough),” the Czech said.
“It was a tough one, for sure. She really didn’t give me anything for free.
“It was a tough first set. I’m glad that I was able to came back in the second. Anyway I didn’t play great at the end of the first.”
Coming into the event the world No. 4 admitted she was undercooked and in need of some game time. While, in hindsight, the three-setters against Katerina Siniakova and Jennifer Brady in the first two rounds probably did her some good, another match that went the distance was probably not in the ideal script for the 2013 Dubai champion.
But Hsieh is a tricky opponent and she proved it once again on Centre Court. The world No. 31 hits two-handed shots off both sides and was trying to beat her fourth top-10 seed of the week. That included wins over Angelique Kerber in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals.

Bencic will try to upset Kvitova in Saturday's final at the Aviation Club (AFP) 


She started off in much the same vein as she had finished against Kerber and Pliskova, hurrying Kvitova around the court and making life as uncomfortable as possible under the hot Dubai sun.
“She’s very tricky,” Kvitova said about Hsieh, who grabbed five games in a row to take the opening set and go up 1-0 in the second.
“I didn’t really play the best at the end of the first set. But I calmed down afterwards a little bit,” Kvitova said.
“With Hsieh, I need to be a little bit patient. ... It’s not really that easy to make those winners against her.”
While she has 
not consistently displayed her A-game this week it should come as no shock that Kvitova has made today’s final. It was the second seed’s 17th victory of 2019 — a feat bettered by no one — and it will be her third final of the season and 35th of her career. She revealed that her presence in the showdown is thanks to her mental toughness and she admitted that after a long week she will have to draw on that a lot today.
“I think I’m pleased with my kind of mental focus after losing the first set, that I was more calmer when I came back and played from the beginning of the second set,” Kvitova said.
“I still kind of felt that I can do that somehow — it was something weird.
“I’m a bit tired right now, to be honest. I have a final, so I don’t know how I going to recover. Hopefully I have a few hours to do something with me.”
Of her sparkling form so far this year she said: “It’s a bit weird, to be honest. I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus.
“As I mentioned, the tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
In the other semifinal Bencic once again upset the odds to overcome world No. 6 Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The Swiss went into the clash as the underdog, but from the off the world No. 45 was aggressive and deservedly won.
In doing so she ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai and ended the two-time defending champion’s hopes of becoming the first woman to win three Dubai titles in a row.