It was a day like any other day except that the tide was high and the sea was angry. The waves hitting the lone rock with great ferocity as if it wanted to defeat it while reaching the inland. The rock however stood there, with sheer grit, taking blow after blow; resilient and withstanding every moment of pressure. The time clocked noon and the waves slowed down, accepting defeat. The rock survived another grueling day knowing that the challenge tomorrow would be greater. That rock in Pakistan cricket is named Azhar Ali.
Azhar Ali’s debut wouldn’t have been better as he got to play his first test match against Australia at the Home of Cricket ‘’Lords’’. However, in terms of runs it was decent. He scored a composed 42 in the 2nd innings of the match but Pakistan lost the match. Like every debutant, Azhar would have feared that not performing would mean that his hopes of playing for Pakistan would be over quickly.
However, Azhar was known to take up challenges and this quality of his helped him to score his 1st test 50 and in the process Pakistan won the match at Leed’s against Australia, drawing the series 1-1. Great things were expected from Azhar as he was the replacement of Mohammad Yousaf or would be in the time to come. His next series was against England, once again a challenge. He failed in the first two test matches but then scored a wonderful 92 at the Oval as Pakistan took lead in the first innings and defeated England. Many felt that a star was rising, he had to if Pakistan was to win matches.
And then the Lord’s test happened. Spot fixing, 3 main players banned, team in shambles, cannot play any home matches already and leader-less. Pakistan was in all sorts of trouble but then came a decision by the PCB which was more out of desperation. The exiled Misbah-ul-Haq became captain, Younis Khan was brought in back and together with Azhar Ali the new middle order of Pakistan was formed. Azhar and Misbah knew each other from before having played first class together and Azhar was to be Misbah’s dutiful prodigy in the years to come.
This kickstarted the career of Azhar Ali to greater heights. In his first series under Misbah, against south Africa, in the UAE, Azhar was to score 3 consecutive half centuries and ended his debut year scoring 528 runs in 8 games an average of 37. It was a good start and gave a glimpse of what was to come. Azhar’s next year was even more impressive as he scored 732 runs in 10 matches at an average of 45.75 and he notched up his first 100 against Sri Lanka, also a match winning one, while scoring 7 fifties. 2012 was also a very successful year for Azhar. Although he played only 6 matches but scored 3 100s and averaged 55.1. His 157 against England I believe was his career changing innings. 2013 was Azhar’s first bad year of his test career. He failed to score any hundred and averaged a meagre 19.28. He was found wanting in South Africa with a lot of questions on his technique and his ability to score overseas in ‘’harder playing conditions’’. However, Azhar was not to be affected by the criticism; he had learnt it from his master. His career had been built on hard work and perseverance and more importantly self-belief. He rejuvenated and in 2014 he scored 770 runs in 8 tests at an average of 51.3 and scored 3 tons including 103 not out which helped Pakistan chase down 302 in 2 sessions at Sharjah against Sri Lanka. The other 2 tons of the year were scored in the whitewash of Australia. Azhar continued his good run in 2015 as well and scored a landmark first 200 against Bangladesh. Slowly and gradually Azhar had made his name among the top consistent performers of world cricket. He was churning out the runs and proving to be the guy who was the equivalent of a wall.
The year 2016 showed the world what really Azhar Ali is. It was this year that Azhar finally silenced his critics as Pakistan was to embark on tours to England and Australia. He scored and scored, amassing 1198 runs at a wonderful average of 63. He scored a ton in England, a double ton in Melbourne and a triple ton in Pakistan’s first day-night match. All of them as a makeshift opener where he averages 55.34.
Azhar is the perfect example of what hard work can make you achieve. As a die-hard cricket fan, I have witnessed how Azhar has evolved through all these years. Each year better than the pervious. He is the perfect team player who was ready to sacrifice his usual number 3 position for the greater good of the team and his feats as an opener are un-paralleled as far as Pakistan cricket is concerned. Azhar’s record in the first and second innings of the test are brilliant. He has scored over 3195 runs at an average of 55. However what concerns is that he has not been able to perform as well in the 4th innings of the test match which has coincided with Pakistan’s last day collapse over the last year or so. In 30 innings he has just scored 692 runs at an average of 26 with only one century coming in that record chase at Sharjah.
Azhar’s success has come in the era of MisYou who gave him the confidence and the platform to shine. His partnership with Younis Khan is Pakistan’s 4th best partnership in terms of runs, scoring 2628 runs together with 8 100+ partnerships. From playing second fiddle to these legends he has gone on to carve his own name in the history books of Pakistan cricket, surpassing the figure of 5000 test runs in the recent test match against Sri Lanka. For all the debate of home vs away performances Azhar has ticked the good performance box in the away category averaging 42 and scoring over 8 tons which include 2 double tons.
After the retirement of MisYou, Azhar is the worthy successor to them. For all its eternity Pakistan would have liked the three of them to play together but such is the law of nature that one must go and someone has to replace them. Amidst all the chaos Azhar is that calm person standing, that beacon of light, the torch-bearer who has got all the ingredients to carry Pakistan; he will. He must take the lead, stand firm and be ‘’the rock’’ to face those angry waves. Time has come for Azhar to be the unbreakable Wall.
Written By Mohammad Kaab Baig.