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Azhar Ali to shine at Emerald Headingley

*Saj Sadiq is a cricket writer who writes for outlets such as Sky Sports, The Cricket Paper and is also the Editor of the Pakistan cricket website PakPassion.*
— 10 January 2018

By Sajid Sadiq

In the summer of 2010, 25-year-old Azhar Ali, a rookie right-handed batsman and leg-break bowler, walked out to face the might of the Australian Test team at Lord’s.

He hung around for 45 minutes before being sent back to the pavilion by Ben Hilfenhaus for a competent 16 off 43 deliveries.

At that time, when youngsters like Mohammad Amir were impressing everyone in the world of cricket, Azhar Ali’s debut innings whilst not special or eye-catching, was still considered yet another sign of the potential that Pakistan had to offer.

In the final analysis, the year 2010 turned out to be Pakistan cricket’s annus horribilis due to the ‘spot-fixing’ scandal. But, there was a silver lining.

Azhar’s performances in his debut series clearly demonstrated the emergence of a batsman who had the fighting spirit, temperament and dogged determination which would be in demand for any decent Test side. This was also a quality which would fast become the hallmark of his nascent career.

  • Azhar Ali (R) of Pakistan celebrates with team mate Mohammad Aamer after day four of the 2nd Test between Pakistan and Australia played at Headingley Carnegie Stadium on July 24, 2010 in Leeds, England.
  • Over the coming years, Azhar’s reputation as a dependable foil for the indefatigable Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq and the master batsman Younis Khan was established with some excellent innings on a frequent basis and the sky appeared to the be the limit for a batsman who many considered as a player of limited means in terms of strokeplay.

    One of the many young Pakistan players who were deprived of playing in front of their home crowds due to the tragic events of March 2009, Azhar Ali’s progress continued unabated with crucial Test performances against the world’s top teams.

  • A constant member of the Pakistan Test squad, he did suffer a serious and possibly career threatening decline in his Test form which led to him being dropped for the first two Tests against Sri Lanka in the UAE in 2013/14. But, true to his nature and unfazed by this temporary setback, Azhar roared back in to the Pakistan Test side with a defiant, match-winning 103 on Day Five against Sri Lanka in Sharjah in the final Test match of the series.

    The Pakistan selectors by then had recognised the qualities in Azhar which allowed him to establish himself as one of the key players in the Test side.

    His more than useful Test record of 62 Test matches where he has scored 5129 runs at an average of over 46 speaks volumes about his importance to a side which is now devoid of the services of the two batting stalwarts, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.

    His ability to step-up and take responsibility as part of a batting line-up notorious for its brittle nature is a quality that has brought him many admirers amongst his countrymen and has also now made his wicket the one that the opposition craves in every Test match he plays.

    From the rather placid UAE pitches to the more venomous ones found in Australia, Azhar Ali’s importance to the Pakistan batting line-up can be described with the much cliched term, ‘man for all seasons’.

    In an age where stroking a quick-fire 30 is praised as an achievement, Azhar Ali’s ability to stand his ground and play long innings to help his team is a sight to behold for connoisseurs of the game. Whether it was the fast-paced Test 100 in Sharjah or the hugely impressive 205 not out in Melbourne in 2016, played in hostile conditions or the magnificent 302 not out in Pakistan’s first Day/Night Test in Dubai last October, Azhar’s reputation as the backbone of Pakistan’s Test batting cannot be denied.

  • Azhar Ali is congratulated by Misbah-ul-Haq on scoring a triple century during Day Two of the First Test between Pakistan and West Indies at Dubai International Cricket Ground on October 14, 2016 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
  • It’s not just his batting skills which are in demand for his team. His business-like attitude and his calm personality are always in great demand in a volatile side like Pakistan which has been feeling the loss of the collective wisdom that the likes of Misbah and Younis brought to the team with their many years of experience.

    To many followers of Pakistan cricket, Azhar Ali’s presence in the Pakistan side provides much needed stability as well as a sense of continuity which has come from his association with the retired stalwarts.

    Azhar Ali’s last visit to England in 2016 saw him score 295 runs in four Test matches with a highest score of 139 which in a sense did not do justice to his immense talent. It is therefore safe to assume that a much more experienced and even more determined Azhar Ali will be relishing yet another opportunity to establish his credentials as one of Pakistan’s top batsmen when he visits the British Isles again this summer to take part in two Test matches against England.

  • The audiences at Emerald Headingley can count themselves fortunate to have seen Azhar Ali play in his second Test in 2010 and know well that even at that early stage of his career, he had the wherewithal to take on the best Australian bowlers, where he scored 81 runs in two innings which played a key role in Pakistan’s hard-fought three-wicket victory.

    In June 2018, Azhar Ali will once again appear at Emerald Headingley to represent his country and the tense tussle for supremacy between him and some of the top English names like James Anderson and Stuart Broad is one that all cricket-lovers around the world will be keenly looking forward to watching with bated breath.

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