Three matches have been played at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium in IPL 2021 so far and what we've seen so far has been a bit surprising. When Royal Challengers Bangalore took on Chennai Super Kings in the first match at Sharjah on September 24, the low scores seemed to be an exception. RCB could only manage 156 for the loss of six wickets batting first and CSK got the job done in the run chase with 11 balls left.
The ball held up on the pitch and despite a couple of fabulous half-centuries from Virat Kohli and especially Devdutt Padikkal, with the latter scoring a 50-ball 70, the wicket didn't seem exactly conducive for the high-tempo batting we've all come to be accustomed to in T20 cricket.
The fears only worsened with time and the highest score achieved over the next two matches was 130 by Kolkata Knight Riders today against the Delhi Capitals. In fact, today's match puts a lot of things in perspective. Delhi Capitals had Shikhar Dhawan in flying form, one of the best stroke-makers in cricket in Steve Smith, they had Shreyas Iyer who had made a successful comeback in the second leg after a shoulder injury and the maverick young gun in Rishabh Pant. Despite the quality in personnel, all of them looked to be struggling against the nature of the track and shots didn't come easy.
When asked about the state of the wicket at Sharjah, KKR's Dinesh Karthik said in the virtual post-match press conference, "Yes, I will say that it is not a great T20 wicket. It is very slow and is not in favour of batters. It's completely in favour of the bowlers. It stops on you and is very hard for shot-making. In a nutshell, it is not a great T20 wicket, it's very challenging."
In three matches, the highest score seen on the wicket was the 157 that Chennai Super Kings chased down against Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first match here. Bowlers have picked up 40 wickets in three games. This is a far cry from the Sharjah cricket stadium we saw last year. In IPL 2020, Sharjah was a batting paradise and was the ground that churned out the most entertaining matches.
Who can forget Sanju Samson's blitz on this ground and AB De Villiers running riot? Last year, only four innings in 24 produced scores of less than 150. Four matches produced scores higher than 200 on this ground last season. Batters knew the luxury they would enjoy on this ground. That hasn't been the case this year.
Whether high-scoring games are more entertaining than low-scoring ones is a whole another topic of discussion though where several gray areas are involved. What we're trying to point out is that in the space of just 365 days, Sharjah's track has undergone a complete transformation.
With IPL playoff matches scheduled on this ground which will give way to the T20 World Cup in October and November, the pitch is likely to get slower, more tired, and more difficult to bat on. It will certainly test the patience of customers who are more suited to the swash-buckling hard-hitting nature of T20 cricket.