Relieved Azhar Ali looks ahead to England challenge
Azhar Ali, the Pakistan batsman who played a crucial role in the Headingley Test victory, is pleased to be a part of the team that broke a 15-year losing streak against Australia. Azhar told Cricistan.com how the experience of watching Pakistan's losses to Australia over the years steeled him into action during his 51 in the second innings.
"Before I became a cricketer, I was a fan. As both a fan and a cricketer there was always a desire to see Pakistan beat the best team in the world," Azhar said. "There is a certain sense of frustration when you see Pakistan repeatedly lose from a winning position and when you stood outside looking in as a fan then there's a feeling of helplessness too. That's why I was determined that I would make the Aussies work for my wicket, they would have to take it from me.
Azhar came into the starting line-up for the series following the retirement of Mohammad Yousuf and the exclusion of Younis Khan, which left the middle order extremely thin on experience. While the batsmen did enough to go past the line in Headingley, Azhar admitted it was Pakistan's talented bowling attack that set up the victory.
"We won this game because the bowlers put us into such a great position on day one, after that it was our game to lose. I'm really proud of my second innings partnership with [Imran] Farhat and of my first Test 50 but I was absolutely gutted to get out. When my wicket fell we only needed 34 more runs and I had wanted to stay till the end and win the game for Pakistan," he said.
Pakistan were on the brink of victory at the start of day four, needing 40 runs with seven wickets standing. Australia came back into the game, picking four more wickets including Azhar's before Pakistan squeaked past the line. Azhar admitted the clutch of wickets made the dressing room nervous, but they were always confident of finishing it off.
"Of course when wickets fall together, there will be some trepidation in any dressing room. But on the final morning, there were so few runs needed that we still felt that we would win the match.
"Australia did their best to stop us, their fielding was brilliant. If they hadn't blocked a couple of early shots, which were on their way to the fence, then the game would've been over a lot quicker. They are experts at applying pressure and making even the smallest of totals look like they'll be hard to get. It worked for them against us in the past but today was our day and hopefully we've now broken that jinx." Azhar said.
Azhar was looking forward to the next challenge, the four-Test series against England which should be a rigorous test of his mettle at the one-drop position. "I agree that the No.3 position is a very important one. I want to be the best player that I can and I see batting at number three as a great challenge. It's an opportunity for me to show what I'm capable of and it helps my confidence to know that the team management has trusted me to bat at such a pivotal number.
"I look forward to the challenge of the upcoming Test series against England. They're a very good team and we're going to have to be at the top of our game to compete with them but I'm confident that this Pakistani team will give as good as it gets," he said. The first Test of the England series begins at Trent Bridge on July 29.