Will Pakistan lose their first Middle East-based Test series since 2002? Can Sri Lanka win their first overseas Test series (not including Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the short-lived Asian Test Championship) since 1999/00? Will the track be a raging turner or one for the batsmen?
We'll have all the answers to these questions and more when the final match of Sri Lanka's tour of Pakistan, by way of the United Arab Emirates, reaches its conclusion. Let's take a closer look at the sides' preparations and what is at stake in this crucial game.
Venue: Sharjah Cricket Stadium, Sharjah, U.A.E.
Date: Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Start time: 6 a.m. GMT, 10 a.m. local time
Weather: Sunshine with patches of clouds is predicted by bbc.co.uk/weather for the first three days but there is a possibility of rain and storms on the Sunday and Monday.
TV Info: Zee Cinema in the UK
Pakistan didn't hesitate to single out the reasons for their comprehensive defeat in Dubai. On the emirates247 website, Coach Dav Whatmore blamed the toss:
"It was unfortunate to lose the toss as the wicket was helpful to the pace bowlers"
And in the same publication, skipper Misbah-ul Haq criticised the lack of turn in the wicket.
"Obviously groundsmen are preparing pitches but as far as satisfaction, it's not there because we have not given instructions of such flat tracks"
There is an element of truth in both statements, with Sri Lanka taking full advantage of helpful seaming conditions on day one, and Saeed Ajmal being unable to help his side fight back as he has done so often.
The latter issue is the host team's biggest concern as their usual main weapon with the ball is taking 137 deliveries to produce a wicket as opposed to the 62 balls it's taken over his career. Thus, a turning Sharjah surface will greatly increase Pakistan's hopes of squaring the series.
With the bat, apart from the first innings in Dubai, they've been fairly consistent scoring over 350 twice. Misbah and Younis Khan have each scored more than 200 runs and four other players have contributed half centuries.
After their biggest win in 45 Tests against their hosts, Sri Lanka's confidence will be sky high. Ever since fighting back from a 179-run first-innings deficit in Abu Dhabi, Angelo Matthew's men have played positive attacking cricket and deserve their current advantage.
If they can hold off the inevitable Pakistan resurgence, it will be their most significant Test match result for a while and herald a new era for this under-achieving team.
The secret of their success has come from consistency with the bat—six players have scored a hundred runs or more—while their unheralded seam attack of Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga and Nuwan Pradeep has also come to the fore in taking 21 of the 31 wickets to fall.
And if the wicket does turn for Ajmal and Co. it will also turn for Rangana Herath who has still taken nine wickets despite enduring more of a holding role than usual.
So with the T20 series being squared, Pakistan edging the ODIs, the result of this one match effectively decides the outcome of the whole tour.
The last Test to be contested at Sharjah was actually between these very two sides in 2011 and ended in a draw with Saeed Ajmal claiming seven wickets. However, with no other Tests being played there since 2004, it is difficult to gauge how the wicket might play.
All-rounder Bilawal Bhatti, who has taken six wickets and chipped in with some useful runs, is struggling with an injury. If he doesn't recover in time, then Mohammad Talha could make just his second Test appearance.
Pakistan (from): Khurram Manzoor, Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq(c), Asad Shafiq, Sarfraz Ahmed(w), Bilawal Bhatti, Saeed Ajmal, Rahat Ali, Junaid Khan,Abdur Rehman, Umar Gul, Shan Masood, Mohammad Talha, Azhar Ali.
Sri Lanka are expected to name an unchanged team.
Sri Lanka (from): Dimuth Karunaratne, Kaushal Silva, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene,Dinesh Chandimal, Angelo Mathews(c), Prasanna Jayawardene(w), Rangana Herath, Shaminda Eranga, Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep, Nuwan Kulasekara, Sachithra Senanayake, Vishwa Fernando, Lahiru Thirimanne, Dilruwan Perera.
Players to watch
Junaid Khan doesn't fit the stereotype of the latest superstar Pakistani bowler. Relatively quiet and unassuming, the youngster has taken to the highest level of the game like a duck to water, claiming 53 wickets in just 15 Tests. If a lack of turn neutralises his team's spin department then Khan, once again, will have to carry the attack—a job he seems more than comfortable doing.
This has been a break through series for Angelo Matthews and a win would fully establish himself as captain...for the time-being anyway. Scores of 91, 157* and 42 with the bat have been vital while with the ball he's used himself sparingly. Well, why do all that running when you can let the youngsters do it?
But seriously, the 26-year-old has managed to assert his authority over a side that already contains two former skippers and all-time legends—not an easy task.
Under pressure from various Pakistan luminaries, you'd put your house on the Sharjah groundsman preparing a dry wicket which will quickly start to break up. On this assumption, with Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman (who will surely be recalled) due some wickets, I'm going to go for a Pakistan win to square the series.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!