Will Azhar Ali stand up again in the red-ball cricket?

Azhar Ali's first series against Australia has got off to a rocky start // Getty

Azhar Ali’s first series against Australia has got off to a rocky start // Getty

The latest upcoming red ball combat between England and Pakistan, the experienced test player, Azhar Ali, is probably going to dominate his side and his batting tactics.

Azhar Ali joined the squad as a young batsman who also featured himself as an occasional leg-spinner back in 2010 at Lord’s, London. Azhar rose his ranks and became one of the finest Test batsmen. After Misbah and Younis, Azhar was the next most discussed player in Pakistan’s Test cricket despite he was the part of ODI as well. However, it was Test cricket where he was highly recognized. In 2017, he crossed the margin of 5000 Test runs against Sri Lanka.

So what does this series means to him? Of course, if he fails, that doesn’t mean he will be drop right away. But that will be alarming for him. The form he has gone through in the last two years, isn’t very pleasing, especially being the current captain of Pakistan’s side.

The veteran is also leading his team in the ongoing World Test Championship, where Pakistan currently stands at fifth place with 140 points. Eng vs Pak series will be important if Pakistan wants to move up on the points table (holds 40 points for a win, in terms of three-match WTC series).

Azhar has scored at an average of 588.5 runs per year (excluding 2020 as he only played one match so far) and eliminating his magnificent 2016, Azhar has scored 520.78 runs per year. He was one of the most consistent batsmen in the Pakistan team since his debut after Younis and Misbah and by the time till the duo played together their last game, Azhar was leading the charts for Pakistan since his debut, scoring 4968 followed by Younis (4829) and Misbah (4214).

Azhar had a brilliant year in 2016

Britain Cricket – England v Pakistan – Third Test – Edgbaston – 4/8/16
Pakistan’s Azhar Ali celebrates reaching his century
Action Images via Reuters / Paul Childs

However, in 2019, Azhar managed 239 runs, which is not even half of what he usually used to score. It was also his lowest runs scored in a year, overtaking 270 runs he scored in 2013, however, his average in 2013 was the lowest (19.28) as compared to 21.72 in 2019.

In 2016, he was among the seven players to score 1000 runs in a calendar year. In that year, he became the first player to score a day-night Test century against the West Indies in which he scored 302*, the fourth triple-century by a Pakistani player.

When he toured to Australia, he scored 205 at the MCG, the highest individual score at the ground. He averaged 63.05, the third-best among those who scored 1000 Test runs in 2016.

Azhar became the first Pakistan batsmen to score a double century on Australian soil.

Azhar became the first Pakistan batsmen to score a double century on Australian soil. Andy Brownbill / AP Photo

Since Misbah and Younis’ retirement, Azhar scored 951 runs at an average of 28.81 as he is positioned at third in the list. As compared to his counter-part, Asad Shafiq, the middle-order batsman is at second position with 1162 runs scored at an average of 38.73; almost ten times more then Azhar even though both had played the same number of matches, 18.

So what exactly went wrong with Azhar? Is it the captaincy pressure? There is a possibility. As a captain, he scored 309 runs in ten innings, averaging 30.9 as compared to his career stats as non-captain of 5610 where he averaged 43.48. The former captain Sarfraz Ahmed, who also suffered a downfall since he took the Test captaincy in 2017, averages 25.81 as a captain as compared to 40.96 as a regular player, which is the difference of -15.15, worse than Azhar did.

Is it an additional burden on the shoulders? For Sarfraz, he was a wicket-keeper who also needed to keep wickets but what about Azhar? Though that wasn’t the case for Azhar in One-Day Internationals. As a captain, he scored 1153 runs at an average of 37.19 as compared to 692 runs at an average of 36.42 as a player. He did better in the white-ball as compare to the red-ball cricket.

Azhar was the second-highest run-scorer for Pakistan with 228 runs in Pakistan’s successful Champions Trophy campaign (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

In his last tour to England, he managed only 67 runs across four innings averaging at 16.75, smashing 50 as his highest score. Removing the solitary fifty, he scored 17 runs in three innings. He didn’t do well in Ireland’s first Test match as well where he managed 6 runs across both innings.

In the tour game, Azhar had scores of 31, 120*, 6, and 28 across two practice matches respectively in two innings Apart from that, 120* which he led his team to chase down the target of 352, the other scores are not satisfying. He got stared impressively but failed to move forward consistently.

Looking from all these, Azhar is a far better player than he is. It’s a bad patch going on currently but despite all his experiences, if he continues this form, Azhar may find himself in a tough position. Pakistan’s cricket followers hope that he would silence his critics with a captain knock in the three-match Test series and lead Pakistan to their first Test series win against England since 1996.

Pakistan’s tour of England 2020 schedule

August 5 – 1st Test at Manchester
August 13 – 2nd Test at Southampton
August 21 – 3rd Test Test at Southampton
August 28 – 1st T20I at Manchester
August 30 – 2nd T20I at Manchester
September 1 – 3rd T20I at Manchester

Also read: Twenty players ahead of England series shortlisted

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