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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 15:06 GMT
Test no draw for Sharjah fans
Sharjah City
Sharjah will host the West Indies and Pakistan series
Chris Florence of the BBC World Service reports from Sharjah on the eve of the Pakistan and West Indies Test series.

My taxi driver was a man of few words.

He was more interested in driving from Sharjah Airport to my hotel in record time before dawn broke.

But he did smile at the thought of Test cricket coming to this outpost of Asian expats determined to make their fortunes.

It was not the thought of admiring the pace bowling of Waqar Younis or the batting grace of Carl Hooper.

No, it was the idea of boosting his income with fares to and from the Sharjah Cricket Stadium which broke his impassive appearance.

If early impressions are any guide, he and other taxi drivers and traders may well be disappointed.

This three-week international programme has been hastily arranged after the West Indies refused to play in Pakistan because tensions on the border with India.

Advertising and promotions have been kept to a minimum and the sport pages of morning newspapers are giving more prominence to European football, tennis and horse racing stories in neighbouring Dubai.

And the television companies trail the one-day competitions in Australia and India rather than the broadcasting of a test series in Sharjah itself.

Low-key affair

The picture in Sharjah is just as low key.

Throughout Asia, with a test match beckoning, few conversations with strangers would end without a request for a ticket for the match but that does just not happen here.

Without knowing it, it is difficult to detect that players from both sides are sharing the same hotel.
Carl Hooper
Carl Hooper isn't the centre of attention in Sharjah

That is not to say that Pakistan and West Indies have come to the wrong place.

Sharjah stages highly successful limited over tournaments every year with the stadium packed and television coverage guaranteeing widespread following.

Desperate

The Pakistan Cricket Board are desperate for this series to go ahead as in sporting terms they've been hit harder than most after the terrorist attacks on the USA in September.

The cancellation of several tours at all levels has hit hard at Pakistan's cricket funds particularly with the fall in television revenues.

The board also needed their players back in action after so much inactivity over the last few months.

It's not that the people of Sharjah are not interested in cricket.

Fans in Sharjah
The fans will be neutral for this match
Many with their Indian, Pakistan, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi backgrounds have been brought up on cricket before leaving home.

But it was mainly of the one-day kind with Test cricket being seen only fleetingly on television.

Many of them are here to work - either in the spin-off to the oil, financial or construction industries or in the service industries attached to the hotels of Dubai.

Day off

They may well take a day off in order to watch a match with a conclusion but the thought of taking days off to watch a five-day game seems a distant one.

As one local hotel waiter explained to me: 'I'd take a day off to see Asian countries if they were playing in a one-day game but I'm not so sure about a series'.

The condition of the pitch is always a big talking point before a Test match but this one, being used for the first time for a five-day match, has created even greater interest.

Both sides will be eager, no matter how big the crowd, to seize the opportunity to show what Test cricket has to offer.


Pakistan (from): Waqar Younis (capt), Inzamam-ul-Haq (vice-capt), Shahid Afridi, Taufiq Umar, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Faisal Iqbal, Naveed Latif, Rashid Latif, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Zahid, Mohammad Sami, Saqlain Mushtaq, Danish Kaneria, Abdur Razzaq.

West Indies (from): Carl Hooper (captain), Ridley Jacobs (vice-captain), Chris Gayle, Daren Ganga, Sherwin Campbell, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Wavell Hinds, Marlon Samuels, Ryan Hinds, Darrell Brown, Mervyn Dillon, Cameron Cuffy, Pedro Collins, Corey Collymore, Dinanath Ramnarine.

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Chris Florence of BBC World Service
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