According to reports in certain sections of the media, head coach and chief selector, Misbah-Ul-Haq, has requested former Pakistan captain Azhar Ali to take back his retirement from ODI cricket.
Azhar Ali had announced to retire from ODI cricket in November last year seeking a return to form in test match cricket. He also sighted fitness issues as a reason for his retirement from one day international cricket. But the reality seems to be something else. Azhar Ali was unfairly dropped from Pakistan’s ODI team in 2018 to give Imam-Ul-Haq the opportunity to get into the Pakistan ODI team. Azhar Ali was the chief architect of Pakistan’s Champions trophy triumph in June 2017 in England and Wales. He was Pakistan’s highest run scorer in the tournament and played superb knocks in the Semi-final and Final of the tournament. People remember Fakhar Zaman’s century in the final but forget Azhar Ali’s crucial 57 runs which set the tone for Pakistan while Fakhar Zaman was struggling early on in the match. Azhar Ali has the ability to be successful against quality attacks. We have seen enough evidence of that in test cricket. But for odd reasons, Azhar Ali was sidelined from the ODI side without utilizing his full potential. Since the Champions trophy, Azhar Ali played just two ODI games, his last being against the Kiwis in January 2018. His ouster from the ODI team had adverse affects on his test batting. 2018 was a horrible year in test cricket for Azhar Ali. Most of it has to do with his loss in confidence after getting unfairly dropped from the ODI team.
Pakistan’s ODI team does not have many technically correct batsmen. Babar Azam and Haris Sohail are perhaps the only exceptions. With Azhar Ali opening for Pakistan in ODI cricket, Pakistan will have a solid entity to take on the new ball threat against quality pace attacks. Pakistan’s problem in the World Cup was the openers struggling against quality pace, being it against India, Australia or the West Indies and those were the games Pakistan lost badly. Even against New Zealand, the openers struggled against Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson. Azhar Ali will also provide Pakistan with experience. The ODI team at the moment, specially with Shoaib Malik and Muhammad Hafeez no longer in the fold, lacks experience. Azhar Ali will also give Pakistan the much needed left right opening combination which Pakistan has so much lacked in the last one year or so.
The question that needs to be asked from the previous management is why did they remove Azhar Ali from the ODI setup? There has to be a trend of accountability started in the Pakistan cricket board. Azhar Ali’s ouster from the ODI team was a major dent to Pakistan’s World Cup campaign. It also hindered Azhar Ali’s run scoring in test cricket. Both the formats were an absolute disaster for Pakistan in 2018. Thus, it is going to be a good move to get Azhar back in the fold. Azhar Ali still has about 4 years of one day international cricket left in him. This means that he can play the 2023 World Cup to be held in India. Pakistan will need all the experience and batting quality of Azhar Ali in the World Cup. It will also help Azhar be more proficient in test cricket because the more international cricket you play, the better you will get across formats. Azhar Ali is also a more than handy leg spinner. It is a huge surprise that Pakistan don’t use Azhar Ali regularly with the ball. He has a very good googly and spins the ball a fair distance. With Indian conditions expected to be conducive to spin bowling, Azhar Ali could be a real support for Pakistan’s spinners in the World Cup of 2023.
The Pakistan cricket board should set a policy for selectors where senior and quality players are not dropped just for the sake of bringing youngsters to the side. The senior and experienced players should be given a complete go in order to utilize their experience completely.Those making the wrong selection calls should be held accountable to make sure that unfair treatment, such as the one done to Azhar Ali is not repeated.