Azhar "Wall" Ali
Azhar Ali: He has only really played 1 format, but test cricket has priority and Azhar has been most effective & successful there out of the under 30 batsmen in the last 10 months or so so he clearly tops the list for me. He has been a true revelation, excellent find and a general breath of fresh air because Pakistan have finally found a genuine test class batsmen who has the capabilities to dig in hard, grind it out, occupy the crease for lengthy amounts of time & close one end up in an age where there have been way too many inconsistent flashy stroke makers flourishing through the ranks from Pakistan.
His application, patience, temperament, mental toughness & solid an sound defence is immense. He knows his game plan well & operates within his limits which will inevitably maximise his effectiveness. He has found success from a classical and slightly traditional style of batting. He comes across as a mature, responsible & focussed youngster. He is not fussed about taking his time & getting bogged down and therefore is confidently able to put a price on his wicket & see out patches of play. He is totally at the ease at the crease and unfazed by what is going on around him so rarely gets distracted. He has played 12 consecutive tests without being injured or dropped which is rare by Pakistani tendencies that are known for their inconsistent selection policy. This is a reflection of how well he has performed, impressed and settled.
Technically he looks to get behind the line and cover the movement of the ball, play the ball late, defends comfortably from the back foot against the slower bowlers and typically like many sub continental batsmen uses his wrists to good effect when looking to find the gaps, but ultimately it’s his concentration and sheer determination which gets him through and can frustrate fielders and bowlers to high degrees. He strives/fights hard and works out of his skin.
Once he’s in he’s a tough cookie to dislodge and it usually takes a quality delivery to dismiss him. He can hold the innings together and give himself a firm platform to capitalise from. He is controlled, methodical & with an abundance of steadiness. He has been tipped to be groomed as Pakistan’s vice captain as he has cemented his place at the all important number 3 position, but also done it in an admirable fashion. He has captaincy experience from league cricket in Scotland where he has been representing Huntly CC as the overseas professional.
He is a good fielder with sharp reflexes which adds to the overall package he brings in the team. He is a bowler turned batsmen as he used to be a front line leg spinner in his younger days and for the record has 2 List A 5fors next to his name. This is a reflection of a quick learner on top of everything else. His style may not be the most appealing or attractive, but nonetheless proper test cricket appreciators cannot speak highly enough of the man who has scored 8 half centuries in his first 23 test innings (all which have contributed to a positive team result). He has been an integral member of Misbah’s test team which has reformed & rejuvenated the respect & fortunes of Pakistan’s test outfit in challenging circumstances and seems to be learning well under his leadership & guidance. However, he is vulnerable against outswingers in the corridor of uncertainty which is an area he can brush up on and improve his judgement. He doesn’t mind doing the hard yards by standing at short leg and getting stuck under people’s noses and taking a few blows for the team which speaks volumes about his attitude, willingness and bravery.
He is the Hanif Mohammad equivalent of this generation. He is a Dravid, Chanderpaul, Kallis, Trott, Michael Atherton style player in how he goes about his approach and business. This is how he should be looked at. Limited in ability or natural talent you can say but he makes up for it by strengthening his technique, temperament, hard work, fighting resilience, game sense & maturity.
A lot of Westerners and non-Pakistan journalists and followers of cricket love watching him bat. One of them told he was the one thing which has been instrumental in bringing back their interest for following Pakistan Cricket. He is good to watch in how he applies himself at the wicket & demonstrates the spirit and guts he does. Plays straight and is hungry to stay at the crease for extended periods of time. He has a commanding structure about him with his stance and sturdy approach. A proper student of the game. He is bound to go far.
He eats up valuable time which ensures the team bat out over 100-120+ overs in the innings where they can really begin to cash in as the bowlers get tired and the ball gets softer and older. How many times have we seen Pak trying to bat at a RPO of 4-4.5 an over but are bundled out for around 200 in 50 overs or something?
The test batting line up is significantly stronger in comparison to a year ago in the last 6 tests. Scores of 300-350+ have been posted with regularity. I don’t need to dig out the scorecards. The Guyana test was an exception but the pitch was tricky and to be fair West Indies bowled very well to us and exploited the variable bounce. He needs to start converting the 50s into bigger scores, but it’s only a matter of time before that happens. He has been unlucky and sold by his own teammates on a few occasions. He has already demonstrated he can bat out and block the hell out of the bowling on day 5 when looking to save matches and the team were positioned in tricky situations in the context of the match situation. I’m confident he can thrive with responsibility and carry the bat in the future.
Who Cares About Temperament?
The manner in which you compile your runs, the characteristics you demonstrate and the organisation you show at the crease says a lot about how many runs you are capable of getting in the future and the position you put yourself in. You are underestimating temperament as if it is nothing. It is a key aspect of most successful cricketers. You get different levels of temperament. Azhar's temperament is at an exceptional level. Runs will take care of themselves with time. The solid basis to succeed is there.