Shield final finely balanced with one day to play
Seldom has a side dominated the first day of a four day match so completely as Namibia did in the Intercontinental Shield final on Thursday, only to find itself going into the final day so thoroughly on the defensive.
The Namibian bowlers toiled throughout the three sessions on Saturday, but were rewarded with just three wickets as the Emirati batsmen piled on 203 laborious runs, creating a lead of 162 which gives them an outside chance of pulling off a astonishing victory after having been bowled out for 79 in their first innings.
Saqib Ali batted throughout the day to finish on 139 at the close, having added a mere 97 in six hours' cricket. It was a vital innings for his side, and his partnership of 172 with Swapnil Patil, who was finally trapped in front by Sarel Burger shortly after lunch having made 94, set the tone for the day's play.
Burger and Craig Williams continued to whittle away at the Emirati batsmen, Williams removing first Amjad Javed and then Mohammad Tauqir, but Saqib remained indomitable, and he will be intent on further extending his side's lead on the final morning.
Burger had bowled 47 overs by the close on Saturday, taking five for 80 with 17 maidens, while Williams' two for 88 had come from 41 overs. First-innings destroyer Kola Burger, with 29 overs, and Louis Klazinga, with 33, had also bowled with great heart though without any success in the day.
Williams and his side will take comfort from three thoughts overnight: that the pitch is evidently still relatively favourable to the batsmen; that the UAE did not make more rapid progress; and that a draw would be enough to take the Shield back to Windhoek.
But the other side of the coin is that the Namibian spinners have bowled only six overs between them, while the Emirati spin attack is likely to prove a much greater handful on a fourth-day pitch. The Intercontinental Cup match may have been a two-and-a-half-day wonder, but this one could scarcely be more interestingly poised with three sessions to go.