Azhar Ali: A crutch to a feeble batting contingent.
The winter of 2009/10, brought ignominy for Pakistan’s cricket; the Aussies did not let us taste victory in any format, much of which owed to alleged in-fighting, though. 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 the delight, Afridi was made captain of all three formats, bringing him out of a self-imposed abeyance from Tests. The test team included some new faces, to include Umar Amin and Azhar Ali. Both of them were definitely in line for making the final 11, but maybe not early in the tour. Audacious as ever, Afridi won the toss on the 13th of July against Ponting-led Australia, elected to bowl and inducted Azhar Ali and Umar Amin at number 3 and 4, respectively. This article will delve on the excursion of Azhar Ali, since his induction in the test side. He certainly has the grit, temperament and resilience to last the distance. Indeed, he is a crutch to a feeble batting line-up.
Azhar Ali was 25, when he made his debut; his first innings fetched him only 16 runs, but two sweet boundaries on a difficult where only Afridi played in Cavalier fashion, was a commendable effort. However, one got a feeling that Azhar had limitations; he did not possess an array of strokes, but his test-like aptitude compensated for it. When, in the 4th innings, Pakistan was chasing 440 runs, he roughed out with a 42. He was playing cover drives with a great degree of ease, and after his departure the batting capitulated. Azhar’s debut was impressive, not rollicking. However, 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 Sydney. The strides were right, but in the series against England, he failed to live-up to the promises, barring one 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 the ODI’s and off-late has performed exceedingly well however; this article will delve on his ODI exploits.
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 0-0. He amassed 237 runs in 4 innings, inclusive of three half-centuries, with a best of 90. He was helped by cool heads, namely Misbah and Younis. The grit was evident. He was and still is, seen as an archetypical test cricketer; spends hours at the wicket and does not play reckless shots. The guy continued with his form in New Zealand, with a 67 in the second test. In his short stint, he had performed in England, New Zealand and the Emirates, showing that he had the ability to play on all kinds of wickets.
After a long lay-off due to the World Cup, Azhar flaunted his prowess in the Caribbean. At ST. Kitts he scored 67 and 53 in the two innings of the second test, which Pakistan went on to win. So, the trend was being set, his contributions were handy for the team; even seniors were not that consistent like him. The century was elusive; he foiled a chance to score his first in Zimbabwe, he got out for 75 and then a 70 against Srilanka in Abu Dhabi.The century came in the next test at Dubai. The century contributed towards a victory, strengthening the relationship between his exploits and Pakistan’s victory. The innings was followed by a fifty in the next test at Sharjah.
Azhar carried on with his show in Bangladesh; an insignificant, yet decent fifty was scored by him. One can never eschew his stellar performances in the second and third test of the series against England. If we take out his 68 in the second test then, Pakistan would have lost that test. Wickets were tumbling, but he along with Asad Shafiq propelled the target to a level of respectability. Then, it was up to Ajmal and Rehman to pummel England. Last, his 157 against the Englishmen in the third was awe-inspiring, having bowled out for 99 in the first innings, Pakistan won the test because of his resiliency, guided by Younis Khan.
One can see that, Azhar was never looked back since his debut; he is going from strength to strength. His temperament needs to be eulogized. He has certainly been a crutch to this feeble batting line-up. He may be flayed by youngsters for being inactive and slow, but it is evident that his style has been effective and rewarding for Pakistan. The batsman will ameliorate with the passage of time; improvements are needed, he needs to develop his stroke play and augment his strike-rate. Last, but not the least, Azhar should be allowed to focus, solely on Test cricket as of now.