Ishan Kishan of the Mumbai Indians regained his touch at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, and unleashed a flurry of impressive strokes against the Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday. Image Credit: ANI

What happened to the Sharjah pitch? There’s no run riot anymore. Sixes are hard to come by, despite the shorter boundaries. It’s no longer a batting paradise. None of the IPL 2021 games was a high-scoring contest, and the highest was Royal Challengers Bangalore’s effort of 164. That’s totally out of character.

The Sharjah Cricket Stadium had a reputation for being a graveyard for bowlers as batters raked in runs by the bushel. Spectators loved it as the white ball sailed out of the stadium regularly in T20 contests. A total of 200 would be below-par as IPL teams have chased down over 220 with ease. That was last year.

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A newly laid strip changed all that. It’s a far cry from the belter of yesteryears. A distraught Sanju Samson on Tuesday blamed the pitch for Rajasthan Royals’ batting troubles but failed to point fingers at the careless shot-making of some of their batsmen. The skipper felt that the wicket had eased when the Mumbai Indians batted as Ishan Kishan ran into form with blazing strokes.

True, pitches can affect the outcome of matches, but both teams play on the same strip. The character of a pitch can change over the course of a game. That makes the toss important. But the loss of toss need not necessarily mean the loss of a match.

Five teams have won the chase in seven IPL games, lending credence to the belief that batting first in Sharjah is the recipe for success. That’s not true. Royal Challengers Bangalore and Punjab Kings proved that batting first is no handicap. While Bangalore put pressure with a fighting total, Punjab bowlers throttled Sunrisers Hyderabad batsmen and defended a low total.

The charm of Sharjah stadium

The toss, the pitch and the weather are beyond the control of teams. But players can and must adapt to the changing situation. Professional players at the peak of their fitness and prowess should be able to do that easily.

It was Rajasthan’s first game in Sharjah this year, and they failed to make the necessary adjustments. In sharp contrast, Mumbai came with a plan to win with plenty of overs to spare as they badly needed to increase their net run rate. Captain Rohit Sharma said everything went according to plan. That’s the gulf between the two sides: the approach and mentality.

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Sharjah stadium may not be as big or as modern as the facilities in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. But it makes up with ambience. The atmosphere is electric, with the full-throated cheers of spectators reverberating around the venue. The boundary ropes are right on the fence, and players are close to the spectators, who love the proximity. And the sound of leather striking the willow is crystal clear. The stadium has its charm.

The T20 World Cup is around the corner. By then, the new Sharjah wicket would have settled down, and we may see a lot of sixes. What’s a T20 game without a run riot!