If we look at the history, Pakistan’s cricket has been dominated by prominent batsmen over the years; from Javaid Miandad to Imran Khan and from Inzamam-ul-Haq to Younis Khan. These iconic cricketers played a huge role in shaping the history of cricket on the international stage.
However, with time, Pakistan’s image has been dented as the nation continued to lose their fighters along the way. Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq were probably the last of the iconic breed and Pakistan has been suffering ever since.
Azhar Ali, prior to the series against Australia in May 2017, claimed that he is ready to take on the responsibility of filling the shoes of Younis and Misbah. However, his words did not change the outcome of his disappointing performances which followed afterward.
The 33-year-old, one of the most experienced batsmen in the Pakistan Test lineup, used to be an asset but is now slowly turning out to be a liability. Since the retirement of Younis and Misbah in 2017, here’s how Azhar Ali has performed:
|Before May 2017||73||139||5669||43.27||41.42||15||31|
|After May 2017||13||25||701||28.04||39.38||1||6|
Pakistan cricket team has suffered some shocking losses in recent times and the root problem of the losses can be traced back to the batting department, where Pakistan has underperformed massively in pressure situations. The recent series against Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa are an example of that.
Being an experienced candidate, more responsibility falls on your shoulders to deliver and Azhar Ali has failed to do so. In 6 series he has played since May 2017, Azhar has managed only 1 century and 6 half-centuries at an average of 28.04. The failure to score runs paired with an extremely low strike-rate is a recipe for disaster for a team like Pakistan.
In an article previously published on ProPakistani, it was discussed how low strike-rates of our prime batsmen is one reason why Pakistan suffer in pressure situations; in Test cricket, Pakistan lose a wicket for every 27.94 runs, which is lower than New Zealand (37.40), India (35.72), England (30.82), South Africa (30.75) and Australia (29.32).
Although it is a collective failure on Pakistan’s part, Azhar Ali remains at the heart of it. In the last two years, his overall stats have dipped massively including his average and strike-rate.
Comparing Away vs. Home Performances
There was once a time when Azhar Ali was a stonewall when Pakistan played away series; be it a green pitch and seeming conditions in South Africa or bouncy pitches of the place where cricket originated from, Azhar Ali always came on top.
However, with time, Azhar Ali has lost that charm. He no longer possesses the ability to cope with different conditions and often tumbles instead of standing tall like the wall he used to be.
Pakistan played home series against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand where Azhar Ali managed to secure a few good innings which have kept him from receiving tons of criticism.
In 13 innings played on neutral or ‘home ground’ (UAE), Azhar Ali managed 1 century, which was scored in the 1st innings of the last and deciding Test match against New Zealand. However, a simple delivery cleaned him up when he was on just 5 runs and Pakistan went on to lose the entire series despite being in a strong position for the majority of the Test match.
Similarly, against Sri Lanka, Azhar managed 85 in the first innings and bundled over after facing just 2 deliveries in the first match of the series. If we can deduce one thing from all this: it is that stats alone may be skewed if right context is not provided alongside them, which is why we will also analyze Azhar’s performance based on innings as well.
For now, here is how are his stats from the home series played on the neutral venue:
Prior to 2017, Azhar Ali managed an average of 41.93 at a strike-rate of 41.92 in Test cricket. Since then, his away performances have taken a major hit. In the last two years, here is how Azhar Ali has performed away from home:
If you take away his best innings of 50 runs against England then it means that Azhar scored only 82 runs in 11 innings, which is worse than what our tailenders have managed in the same duration. Furthermore, to consider that our premier batsman has only managed 19 boundaries in 12 innings is nothing short of embarrassing.
These statistics paint a gruesome picture for Azhar Ali and also for the management who are continuing to pick him over many qualified candidates which include Fawad Alam, Usman Salahuddin, and Saad Ali.
Crumbling Under Pressure
Pakistan has always had a reputation for crumbling under pressure. The issue is more related to psychological reasons than anything else. In the recent past, the Greens lost a number of matches from winning positions while chasing down targets. A lot of the blame resides on the shoulders of all the senior players including Azhar Ali.
In the 2nd team innings, Azhar Ali averages only 16.08 in 12 innings. Here’s how his 2nd team innings break down looks like:
Admittedly, there are a number of factors which can hinder the performances of particular batsmen but if the poor performances are continued over a lengthy period of time, like Azhar Ali, then questions need to be asked and strict actions need to be taken.
With Sarfraz already struggling to justify his own place in the Test squad and likewise for Micky Arthur as the coach, the PCB management and selection committee needs to take the responsibility on their shoulders to go through a thorough assessment process and make informed decisions.
As mentioned before, Pakistan has a lot of young talent at their disposal and it is perhaps time to make good use of that.
Let’s have a discussion in the comments section below.