Azhar Ali: A crutch to a feeble batting contingent
Azhar Ali's 157 runs against Sri Lanka proves that he has the resilience to go the distance in the Test format.
The winter of 2009-10, brought public shame and disgrace to Pakistani cricket; the Aussies did not let us taste victory in any format, mainly due to the alleged in-house fighting. The tour was followed by bans and fines, which meant that Pakistan’s touring contingent to England was bereft of Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan for obvious reasons.
Hence, the mantle of responsibility was on the feeble youngsters. Much to our delight, Shahid Afridi was made captain of all three formats, bringing him out of a self-imposed abeyance from Test matches. The Test team included some new faces like Umar Amin and Azhar Ali. Both of them were definitely in line for making the final 11, but maybe not that early in the tour.
Audacious as ever, Afridi won the toss on July 13 against Australia which was led by Ponting. He elected to bowl and inducted Azhar Ali and Umar Amin at number three and four, respectively.
This article will delve on the excursion of Azhar Ali, since his induction in the Test side.
He certainly has the grip, temperament and resilience to go the distance. Indeed, he is a crutch to a feeble batting line-up of our squad.
Azhar Ali was 25-years-old, when he first made his début in the world of cricket and though his first innings fetched him only 16 runs, the two boundaries on a difficult pitch played in a cavalier fashion, was a commendable effort. However, one could very well notice that Azhar had limitations; he did not possess an array of strokes, but his Test-like aptitude surely compensated for this.
When, in the second innings, Pakistan was chasing 440 runs, he managed to deliver 42 runs. He was playing cover drives with a great degree of ease, and after his departure the batting capitulated.
Azhar’s début was impressive. He showed his class at Leeds with a 30 in the first innings and a well-crafted 51 in a difficult run chase, so it was Azhar who stopped a replica of defeat in Sydney. The strides were right, but in the series against England, he failed to live up to the promises, barring of course the match-winning innings of 92.
His first assignment sufficed the need for keeping him in the team, but owing to his poor stroke-making dexterity he was kept away from the shorter formats. Later, he got some chances in ODI’s and off-late he has performed exceedingly well.
When Pakistan went to UAE, to host South Africa - who had Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel amongst their ranks - Azhar proved his mettle. His contributions were instrumental in drawing the series with a 0-0. He amassed 237 runs in four innings, inclusive of three half-centuries, with a best of 90. We won't disregard the help by 'cool heads', namely Misbah and Younis, they deserved some credit too after all.
He was and still is, seen as an archetypical Test cricketer; who spends hours at the wicket and does not play reckless shots. The guy continued to perform and maintain his form in New Zealand, with a 67 in the second Test match.
In his short stint, he had performed in England, New Zealand and the Emirates, showcasing his ability to play on variety of wickets.
After a long lay-off due to the World Cup, Azhar flaunted his prowess in the Caribbean, against the West Indies.
At ST Kitts he scored 67 and 53 in the two innings of the second test, which Pakistan went on to win. It will be safe to state that Pakistan won the Test because of his resilience which was well guided by Younis Khan.
Remove his 68 in the second Test and Pakistan would have lost. When wickets were tumbling, he along with Asad Shafiq propelled the target to a level of respectability. Then, it was left up to Ajmal and Rehman to pummel England.
His 157 against the Englishmen in the third Test was awe-inspiring. It will be safe to state that Pakistan won the Test because of his resilience which was well guided by Younis Khan.
So, the trend was being set, his contributions were handy for the team; even seniors were not as consistent as Azhar was. A century, however, kept eluding him; he foiled a chance to score his first100 in Zimbabwe but got out for 75 and then a 70 against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi. His first century came in the next Test at the Dubai stadium. His 100 contributed towards a victory, strengthening the relationship between his exploits and Pakistan’s image. The innings was followed by his 50 in the next Test at Sharjah.
Azhar carried on with his remarkable show in Bangladesh; an insignificant, yet decent 50 was scored by him. One cannot eschew his stellar performances in the second and third Test of the series against England.
Azhar has never looked back since his début; he is going from strength to strength. His recent 157 runs against Sri Lanka proves that he is a very valuable asset to the team. He may be flayed by youngsters for being inactive and slow, but it is evident that his style has proven to be effective and rewarding for Pakistan. The batsman will better himself with the passage of time; improvements are much needed and he needs to develop his stroke and try to improve his strike-rate.
Last, but not the least, Azhar should be allowed to focus solely on Test cricket as of now; his skills and talent can be best nurtured and utilised in this format.
Read more by Ali here or follow him in Twitter @pakistan199220.