Sharjah's new square a test for batters, and David Wiese passes with flying colours

Ireland and Namibia showcased different ways to approach the conditions, which could provide lessons for the rest of the tournament

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
David Wiese celebrates after scoring the winning runs  •  ICC via Getty

David Wiese celebrates after scoring the winning runs  •  ICC via Getty

Welcome to the new Sharjah. Thirteen months ago, this rickety old ground was hosting IPL fixtures where teams hauled down targets of 224 with balls to spare and where cars on the neighbouring motorway veered across lanes to avoid having their windscreens shattered.
But since the square was re-laid earlier this year, the pitches have been completely different. The infrastructure remains old-school - a modern pavilion but basic facilities and stands, and these are not the only reminders of the countless ODIs that were staged here throughout the 1990s. Once the powerplay is done, batters have found it near impossible to get properly underneath the ball, which keeps low from a good length.
Only David Wiese managed to defy the conditions in the first T20 World Cup fixture at the ground. Carrying on from where he had left off against Netherlands on Wednesday night, Wiese nudged his first two balls for singles and then decided he had seen enough to know it was time to launch. At the start of Craig Young's 15th over, Namibia needed 49 off 36 balls and were comfortably behind the rate; three balls into it, the equation was 35 off 33.
His first six was not cleanly struck. Young, impressive in his first spell, dug the ball into the pitch and Wiese plinked his pull out towards Kevin O'Brien at deep midwicket. He could only spill the ball over the rope, jumping back over his head; the six was measured at 69 metres, a mis-hit for a man of Wiese's power.
The second was high and long, flying away over the stand at deep backward square leg. Wiese has fond memories of Sharjah, memorably hitting the last ball of a PSL game for six to seal a chase of 201 for Lahore Qalandars in early 2019, and while the surface he was presented with today could scarcely have been more different, the shot was reminiscent of his clean-striking in that innings. His celebration, roaring with fists clenched above his head after slapping Young over cover, evoked the same night.
This match was not only a winner-takes-all game with major implications for funding, sponsorship and status, but a tactical battle between two different visions of how a T20 batting line-up should set up. Ireland took the call two-and-a-half years ago to promote Kevin O'Brien, a stalwart of their middle order for over a decade, to open alongside Paul Stirling, frontloading their batting with their two most explosive players at the top of the order. Namibia, by contrast, lined up with a middle-order "bomb squad" - in the words of their coach, Pierre de Bruyn - of Gerhard Erasmus, David Wiese and JJ Smit.
The contrast was clear on the pitch. Ireland raced to 55 for 0 inside the powerplay with Stirling particularly belligerent, treating the 30-yard circle as the boundary as he looked to loft inside-out over cover and check on-drives over mid-on, but they managed 70 for 8 in the 14 overs with the field out. Namibia were significantly more cautious, creeping to 27 for 1 after six, but their late charge - led by Wiese and Erasmus and made possible by their ability to keep wickets in hand - was enough to see them home.
"We'd seen the IPL games that had been played here and we were aware that this wicket wasn't as flat as it used to be. We had to adapt to that and Namibia did it better than us."
Andy Balbirnie
Ireland's approach appeared better-suited to this ground and this pitch, and it may well prove across the course of the nine Super 12s games in Sharjah that attacking hard in the powerplay is the way to win here. In the ten IPL 2021 games at the venue, nine were won by the team scoring more runs in the first six overs - a fact which Andy Balbirnie, Ireland's captain, said had informed their method.
"It was tough out there but we knew that," Balbirnie said. "We'd seen the IPL games that had been played here and we were aware that this wicket wasn't as flat as it used to be. We had to adapt to that and Namibia did it better than us; they went through that middle period where it was tricky but came out the back end of it.
"It was a new-ball wicket - it came on a bit nicer than it did in the middle overs. Paul and Kev usually get us off to pretty good starts but that was certainly our best powerplay in a few games. That's the disappointing thing, because we were ahead of the eight ball and we managed to not capitalise on that. The middle order and myself need to go away and work on ways to score on wickets that are difficult.
"[In the chase] we were ahead in terms of the required run rate but we were aware that we probably needed to take a couple more wickets for it to work in our favour. We had two really good powerplays - it was just that middle period where we couldn't up the run rate with the bat or take wickets with the ball."
Super 12s teams looking for guidance from the first Sharjah game of the tournament - Sri Lanka play here three times, South Africa, England, Pakistan and Bangladesh twice each - may do well to follow a hybrid approach: replicating Ireland's aggression in the powerplay, while noting Namibia's success when using their feet and hitting gaps in the second half of their innings. One thing is for sure: this is not the Sharjah of 2020.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98