Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo
When Pakistan take on Australia at the Dubai Sports City Stadium on Wednesday in the first of five ODIs they may well be playing at their new home away from home. The decision last week by the ICC board to take away 2011 World Cup matches from Pakistan in the aftermath of the Lahore attacks on the Sri Lankan team in March effectively means that there will be no international cricket in Pakistan for some time.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium - where the last three ODIs of the series will be played - are the most feasible options as regular neutral venues for Pakistan's home assignments. Though Abu Dhabi has hosted ODIs before, this will be Dubai's first international cricket match and as quasi-hosts, Pakistan are impressed with the facilities.
The 25,000 capacity cricket ground was completed earlier this year, as one of four stadiums inside the Sports City. "The stadium and facilities are absolutely magnificent," Pakistan's captain Younis Khan told Cricinfo. "For players practicing here and just looking around, it is a very impressive ground. It's not often that you get to play at such a ground. Usually we only come to Dubai to shop but we're looking forward to playing here."
Pakistan's squad will have been there for nearly a week when the series finally begins, acclimatising to the conditions, and Younis said a familiar set-up and faces had helped them settle in. "The people around here are very good to us and there are many of the same faces as there were in Sharjah when it was thriving as a venue," he said. "That way it isn't new, which could've been problematic, and the familiarity has helped. Guys like Umar Gul, Shoaib Akhtar, Shoaib Malik and I, we have experience of Sharjah so it has helped."
Though security around the ground and the team hotel is very tight, the comfort and familiarity bodes well for the future, as Younis acknowledges. "This is a very important contest for the entire country because of what has been happening over the years," he said. "We've been worrying over the last two years constantly about who will come and who won't. But now we're playing at a neutral venue and it is a significant moment."