Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Sharjah, 5th day January 21, 2014

Azhar strengthens claim to No.3 spot

Azhar Ali's match-winning 103 off 137 balls in Sharjah went a long way to proving that he had the ability to bat according to the situation and make the No.3 spot his own
34

Azhar Ali had played 31 consecutive matches since making his Test debut against England in 2010, but a dip in form in 2013 resulted in him being dropped for Mohammad Hafeez in the first two Tests of the series against Sri Lanka. With Hafeez failing in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, however, Azhar was given another opportunity in Sharjah and he took it in style, scoring a brisk hundred to help Pakistan chase 302 in 57.3 overs, and square the series 1-1.

Azhar's 157 and 68 against England in 2012 are perhaps his two best knocks, but the batsman rated his 137-ball 103 on Monday as his most valued one. "I tried to stick with the plan," he said. "The message was clear from the management [to go for it] and when I went in and I just played my game. I wanted to play positively and I did that and it's the most valued innings of my career."

More importantly for Azhar, who spent the first two Tests carrying drinks and watching his spot in the team slipping away, his innings kick-started his career. Misbah said Azhar had been picked because he was the team's No. 3. "Dropping Hafeez was a difficult decision but in the end we thought to bring Azhar Ali back because he is our established batsman at the position," Misbah-ul-Haq said after the win. "In the last many innings, Ali was struggling with only one 50 and that's why we brought Hafeez in place."

Azhar was dropped not only because of his indifferent form but also for not increasing his strike rate when needed. Until then, he had been an automatic starter in the XI, having brought stability to the top order by scoring 2081 runs at 38.53, making the No. 3 spot his own. However, a recent slide saw him make just 270 from seven matches at 19.28, with only two fifties, though even those performances could be attributed to Pakistan's irregular Test schedule during the time.

Still, he needed self-belief and someone to give him confidence. It was provided by his former coach Waqar Younis, who suggested a more attacking approach was the way back for Azhar. His 103 in Sharjah was full of aggression and in stark contrast to the holding role that he has performed for much of his career.

Azhar is known for his dead batting, occupying the crease and frustrating the opposition. His career strike rate before the third Test was 38.68 but his century came at 75.18. It was not unexpected, though, because Azhar had entered the series with a plan, after scoring two first-class hundreds at strike rate of nearly 60. If he is able to raise his game to meet such difficult demands, Azhar could become the versatile No. 3 Pakistan desperately need.

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sports4Youth on January 25, 2014, 10:51 GMT

    This is the problem with Pakistani selectors and Pakistani fans. One good innings and the guy is made into a god. You forget that just recently the guy was dropped for his pathetic performances in 2013. Furhter, in this series ASAD SHAFIQ showed how useless he can be.Remember, this was suppposed to be an easy series. Looks like people have forgotten about Asad and looks like he will be forgiven. Now if Azhar continues in the team then again it will require 12 - 18 months of failure for him to be dropped and behold HAFEEZ will be back. As if this is a game of musical chairs. Please stop this revolving door policy and bring FAWAD Alam & HARIS Sohail.

    Also most importantly, Dont forget of of this MISBAH & AZHAR efforts would have been useless if SARFRAZ would not have provided the accelaration that was required. AHMED SHEHZAD gave them a quick start but did not last. Then it looked as if they are not going anywhere untill SARFRAZ provided the most important 48 runs in 46 balls.

  • Yousafahmed11 on January 23, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    @Ali_Chaudhary. I still remember 3rd test vs Aus at Australia under Kumble's captaincy. Check Dravid's scores. But cannot count the number of times.

  • on January 22, 2014, 13:28 GMT

    in this article its clear that azhar mentioned he played his natural game. and he was successful. I think we can suggest improvement to azhars techniques but we should not tell him to play slow. he played positive now he needs to be consistent

  • on January 22, 2014, 11:13 GMT

    @Ali_Chaudhry.... sir i agree it is one of the innings of this decade but Azhar has a long long lonnnnnnnnnnng way to go to be compared on the same levels as Punter and Dravid. He has shown potential and class and most importantly determination and hunger to match these giants but its a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng way off....but no doubt, innings of this decade so far.. abs brilliant... couldnt sit on my chair when the game was on

  • Ali_Chaudhary on January 22, 2014, 9:56 GMT

    Simply the best Inng by a no. 3Batsman in entire history of Test Cricket. Dravid played over 160 matches but could never Play an Inng like this. Even Punter and many others struggled to Play like this. what a Player Azhar Ali. You Beauty!

  • Cricket_theBestGame on January 22, 2014, 1:23 GMT

    @Waheedahmad Malik - totally agreed. hafiz at best is no 6/7 batsman. not top order. his main asset is his bowling and he's a decent fielder. his batting in lower order will be handy since the ball would've lost its hardness and shine. so it will help him. having said that it should be the last life line thrown to him at that position as an all rounder and if he doesn't grab it then bring in someone young and new.

  • Kak-mal_Khan on January 21, 2014, 20:30 GMT

    Message to the Azhar Ali doubters, during the 2010 tour to England, Azhar Ali was the scalp that England wanted the most, he resisted whilst the others fell away with little or no fight. He like Misbah will continue to have critics from those who are not familiar with the demands of Test cricket. They come in a play according to the situation.

  • ICKY on January 21, 2014, 18:46 GMT

    It was the URGE to win and team got spirit with positive attitude from Captain, though, it was the first time Misbah got positive aggressive approach. He must have learnt lesson that this approach is better than he had in all the ODI's he ever played. I can't forget those maiden overs he played against Zimbabwe, the worst negative message sent to boys in the dressing room and on field. Misbah should take this approach to ODI's or let someone else be Captain in ODI's. His track record does not guarantee any victories against Aus, Ind, Eng, NZ and WI. He has to take this approach to ODI's to win matches. SL lost coz they adopted Misbah's ODI approach and Misbah got a new lease of life with this positive approach. Well played Pak.

  • roook on January 21, 2014, 17:22 GMT

    Pakistan is playing no test match for next 9 months and test only players will always lack match practice. With Pakistan also shortening 3 test match series against austrilia to 2 test match series and replace it with ODIs. Test cricket is real crickets and it should be given equal importance, 6 out of 11 players are only test only players. It would be better if pakistan maintain seperate Test A team and compete with different teams

  • mainul079080 on January 21, 2014, 16:24 GMT

    @ goflnut and @ amirsoorty . Spot on. This was a great victory, no doubt but Pakistan should also look for their weaknesses and sort these out.Azhar should work harder on his strike rate and ability to rotate strikes and odd boundaries and do it on a consistent basis, not only in this match.Only then he will be a world class player.Regarding Asad i think he will not get a place in any other top 5 test sides.I believe Pakistan have better batsmen than him. I am very disappointed with those Pak fans who regard Asad highly saying about his technique, temperament. But to be acknowledged as a good batsman your NO 1 quality should be consistency and then capacity to deliver in tough situations and making your team win.Sadly Asad dont have any.It is not about supporting a player blindly, it is about sensibly.

  • Sports4Youth on January 25, 2014, 10:51 GMT

    This is the problem with Pakistani selectors and Pakistani fans. One good innings and the guy is made into a god. You forget that just recently the guy was dropped for his pathetic performances in 2013. Furhter, in this series ASAD SHAFIQ showed how useless he can be.Remember, this was suppposed to be an easy series. Looks like people have forgotten about Asad and looks like he will be forgiven. Now if Azhar continues in the team then again it will require 12 - 18 months of failure for him to be dropped and behold HAFEEZ will be back. As if this is a game of musical chairs. Please stop this revolving door policy and bring FAWAD Alam & HARIS Sohail.

    Also most importantly, Dont forget of of this MISBAH & AZHAR efforts would have been useless if SARFRAZ would not have provided the accelaration that was required. AHMED SHEHZAD gave them a quick start but did not last. Then it looked as if they are not going anywhere untill SARFRAZ provided the most important 48 runs in 46 balls.

  • Yousafahmed11 on January 23, 2014, 5:59 GMT

    @Ali_Chaudhary. I still remember 3rd test vs Aus at Australia under Kumble's captaincy. Check Dravid's scores. But cannot count the number of times.

  • on January 22, 2014, 13:28 GMT

    in this article its clear that azhar mentioned he played his natural game. and he was successful. I think we can suggest improvement to azhars techniques but we should not tell him to play slow. he played positive now he needs to be consistent

  • on January 22, 2014, 11:13 GMT

    @Ali_Chaudhry.... sir i agree it is one of the innings of this decade but Azhar has a long long lonnnnnnnnnnng way to go to be compared on the same levels as Punter and Dravid. He has shown potential and class and most importantly determination and hunger to match these giants but its a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng way off....but no doubt, innings of this decade so far.. abs brilliant... couldnt sit on my chair when the game was on

  • Ali_Chaudhary on January 22, 2014, 9:56 GMT

    Simply the best Inng by a no. 3Batsman in entire history of Test Cricket. Dravid played over 160 matches but could never Play an Inng like this. Even Punter and many others struggled to Play like this. what a Player Azhar Ali. You Beauty!

  • Cricket_theBestGame on January 22, 2014, 1:23 GMT

    @Waheedahmad Malik - totally agreed. hafiz at best is no 6/7 batsman. not top order. his main asset is his bowling and he's a decent fielder. his batting in lower order will be handy since the ball would've lost its hardness and shine. so it will help him. having said that it should be the last life line thrown to him at that position as an all rounder and if he doesn't grab it then bring in someone young and new.

  • Kak-mal_Khan on January 21, 2014, 20:30 GMT

    Message to the Azhar Ali doubters, during the 2010 tour to England, Azhar Ali was the scalp that England wanted the most, he resisted whilst the others fell away with little or no fight. He like Misbah will continue to have critics from those who are not familiar with the demands of Test cricket. They come in a play according to the situation.

  • ICKY on January 21, 2014, 18:46 GMT

    It was the URGE to win and team got spirit with positive attitude from Captain, though, it was the first time Misbah got positive aggressive approach. He must have learnt lesson that this approach is better than he had in all the ODI's he ever played. I can't forget those maiden overs he played against Zimbabwe, the worst negative message sent to boys in the dressing room and on field. Misbah should take this approach to ODI's or let someone else be Captain in ODI's. His track record does not guarantee any victories against Aus, Ind, Eng, NZ and WI. He has to take this approach to ODI's to win matches. SL lost coz they adopted Misbah's ODI approach and Misbah got a new lease of life with this positive approach. Well played Pak.

  • roook on January 21, 2014, 17:22 GMT

    Pakistan is playing no test match for next 9 months and test only players will always lack match practice. With Pakistan also shortening 3 test match series against austrilia to 2 test match series and replace it with ODIs. Test cricket is real crickets and it should be given equal importance, 6 out of 11 players are only test only players. It would be better if pakistan maintain seperate Test A team and compete with different teams

  • mainul079080 on January 21, 2014, 16:24 GMT

    @ goflnut and @ amirsoorty . Spot on. This was a great victory, no doubt but Pakistan should also look for their weaknesses and sort these out.Azhar should work harder on his strike rate and ability to rotate strikes and odd boundaries and do it on a consistent basis, not only in this match.Only then he will be a world class player.Regarding Asad i think he will not get a place in any other top 5 test sides.I believe Pakistan have better batsmen than him. I am very disappointed with those Pak fans who regard Asad highly saying about his technique, temperament. But to be acknowledged as a good batsman your NO 1 quality should be consistency and then capacity to deliver in tough situations and making your team win.Sadly Asad dont have any.It is not about supporting a player blindly, it is about sensibly.

  • on January 21, 2014, 15:57 GMT

    Played an inning of his life, which will be remembered forever

  • Tornado1 on January 21, 2014, 15:43 GMT

    Hafeez is/was/can't be a test player. Period. I like his T20 batting and ODI bowling though, but i think he should decide like what Afridi did years ago, i mean retiring from test cricket

  • Shan.z on January 21, 2014, 15:43 GMT

    when you play with positive mind you get positive results. Misbah & Co need to learn lesson from this win that they should always try to play for win.

  • Tornado1 on January 21, 2014, 15:41 GMT

    come on goflnut, T20 cricket experts are found in plenty today. Though Azhar isn't a great batsman and may not get selected in top 8 sides but definitely he is much better than Hafeez at test level, who isn't a test material even for this Pakistan batting lineup. Get your test knowledge a little better before commenting or comparing. Azhar has even scored in England in that infamous Asif/Amir test series and he has one a test while chasing against Aussies there as well.. Hafeez can't even survive 10 overs in those conditions

  • amirsoorty on January 21, 2014, 15:31 GMT

    No doubt, this is a monumental victory for Pak. Sentiments and spirits are high and rightly so. But staying in context, the coach/selectors should also groom Azhar Ali for such future performances. No offense to Azhar's batting in the 4th innings, it lacked footwork and a still head. This worked out well and good on a Sharjah pitch, but will not be sustainable on bouncy wickets in Aus, or seaming ones in Eng. The need here is to groom him to be a long term and solid no.3 for Pak. Not just assume that based on this innings, we can sit back until he starts failing. Again, put emphasis on his footwork and technique, because he sure as heck has the winning attitude needed to excel.

  • goflnut on January 21, 2014, 14:29 GMT

    Even though you have to applaud Pakistan for this excellent - record setting - victory, you have to keep everything in perspective and not get ahead of ourselves. As Ramiz said, Pakistan was allowed to boss in the 4th innings - SL think tank was completely clueless, bowling was toothless and the pitch lifeless. Even though Azhar scored a match & man of the match wining hundred he is not number 3 material and will not find a spot in any of the top 8 cricketing teams. He has no capacity to score runs against top bowling attacks. However, with Pakistan's lack of batting talent he should be kept in the side till adequate replacement is found. Shafiq should be replaced by new talent or even try Hafiz at number 6. With Younis and Misbah on their way out, there will be a huge vacuum in Pakistan team and they should start thinking about it NOW.

  • on January 21, 2014, 13:35 GMT

    Looks like selectors are missing one very important point. Position number 6. OK I agree hafiz has failed number of times on 1,2,3 position. Let us try him on number 6, A Shafiq too has not performed. Further u need 5th bolwer. Hafiz is the answer for number 6. Give him one more try before dumping him

  • Zahidsaltin on January 21, 2014, 12:08 GMT

    Why every player who is interviewed says," I just played my game"? The innings Azhar played was in no way his usual game. Anyhow, well done boy

  • HabeebRaja786 on January 21, 2014, 11:16 GMT

    He deserves to have extended run in the team.I believe both Azhar and Asad are technically better player in our batting line up.

  • on January 21, 2014, 10:07 GMT

    As a Sri Lankan strong supporter I am really happy the way Pakistan performed on the final day.....We lost the match, but still we are satisfied to see such a good performance by Pakistan........Pakistan Zinda bad

  • on January 21, 2014, 10:02 GMT

    If it was a choice between azhar and hafeez, then its definately azhar. This innings was special because he was making a come back. and last year he has been poor. secondly, this innings was played at a strike rate way higher than his career strike rate. I think he is a good contender for no3 spot if not a confirmed 1. Strike rate is not important all the times considering pak's regular collapses. even in this series 54/6 and 58/8. so have to have some one who can stay there.

  • on January 21, 2014, 9:45 GMT

    if asad shafiq had been kept in the team by not scoring much azhar should have also been kept im glad he scored a 100 now pak should not only stick with but give him an extended run well done azhar

  • Ibrarhunzai on January 21, 2014, 9:22 GMT

    Pakistan should not forget the mistakes they did in the field while fielding.

  • on January 21, 2014, 9:05 GMT

    those who say Azhar Ali is slow, must keep in mind that he comes mostly under pressure like Misbah so he has 2 responsibilities, 1 to save wickets,2nd to steer runs, they do at reasonable pace and provide foundation to upcoming batsmen, these kind of batsmen are "Must-Have" options for any team in any condition. Thumbs Up for Azhar Ali

  • funnykid on January 21, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    It is good to see Azhar Ali back to form but he has to improve his batting. He is not a natural stroke player and also lacks aggression and has very limited range of strokes. Like Misbah, he is a blocker rather than rotating the strike frequently. But Misbah can also play big shots when required which unfortunately Azhar cant. I'll never forget his batting against Petersen in SA wherein he played almost 47 consecutive dots balls and allowed Petersen to settle and take wickets. Against Dale Steyn he was found wanting and had no clue as to how make runs against express pace and movement rather he appeared timid unable to face hostile bowling. No. 3 being pivotal position requires a batsman who can defend as well as attack. Most of No. 3 batsmen have been great stroke players like Zaheer Abbas, Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid etc.

  • Pindia on January 21, 2014, 7:36 GMT

    Congratulations Azhar Ali, a star is born. Seems like a decent, humble guy too. Azhar and Sarfraz plus the ever-dependable Misbah pulled off this historic win; but the whole team contributed over the five days. Sarfraz and Azhar should be certainties in tests and probably odis too. If they can play like that under huge pressure then they are exactly what Pakistan needs in the batting department.

  • on January 21, 2014, 7:08 GMT

    azhar is a very good talent. but consistency is the thing pak player s are lacking

  • on January 21, 2014, 7:06 GMT

    Firstly we had MIANDAD, Then INZAMAM, Then YUSUF, Then YUNUS & MISBAH now surely Pakistan can relief as they have finally found another Dependable Test batsman AZHAR ALI

  • on January 21, 2014, 6:55 GMT

    Aakash Dhruva, Dravid was actually reasonably faster.

  • Salman_Shakeel84 on January 21, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    All Pakistanis players have got immense talent .However, they lack consistency

    Tendulkar had a talent, he put consistency to it and he became a legend.Now same is the case with Virat Kohli, he has talent and he is topping up that talent with consistency.

    Azhar Ali must be consistent to rule #.3 spot of Pak batting

  • on January 21, 2014, 6:35 GMT

    Its surprising that a player, especially a number 3 can be even thought of bein dropped just coz he has a slow strike rate. and bein replaced by a technically insufficient Hafeez. you don't need to look far than Rahul Dravid who was equally slow. In a team of flamboyant players, a batsman of attrition is necessary. Azhar easily fits the role. In search for a pleasing-to-the-eye player, they should not compromise on this lad who can climb greater peaks.

  • on January 21, 2014, 6:30 GMT

    Azhar Ali has debuted and performed against top level teams in the world in difficult match situations and has shown that he has the guts to play at the international level.....

  • on January 21, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    azher ali avg i n LIst A is 49.56 that is suprisingly high; if he raise his trike rate then he can be a proper NO.3 spot player for Pakistan:

  • on January 21, 2014, 5:28 GMT

    Management should give him confidence and should groom him as a potential skipper in the tests. He had shown some class in his first ever test series in England, he needs to be more consistent and hopefully this knock will raise his confidence level.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • on January 21, 2014, 5:28 GMT

    Management should give him confidence and should groom him as a potential skipper in the tests. He had shown some class in his first ever test series in England, he needs to be more consistent and hopefully this knock will raise his confidence level.

  • on January 21, 2014, 5:52 GMT

    azher ali avg i n LIst A is 49.56 that is suprisingly high; if he raise his trike rate then he can be a proper NO.3 spot player for Pakistan:

  • on January 21, 2014, 6:30 GMT

    Azhar Ali has debuted and performed against top level teams in the world in difficult match situations and has shown that he has the guts to play at the international level.....

  • on January 21, 2014, 6:35 GMT

    Its surprising that a player, especially a number 3 can be even thought of bein dropped just coz he has a slow strike rate. and bein replaced by a technically insufficient Hafeez. you don't need to look far than Rahul Dravid who was equally slow. In a team of flamboyant players, a batsman of attrition is necessary. Azhar easily fits the role. In search for a pleasing-to-the-eye player, they should not compromise on this lad who can climb greater peaks.

  • Salman_Shakeel84 on January 21, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    All Pakistanis players have got immense talent .However, they lack consistency

    Tendulkar had a talent, he put consistency to it and he became a legend.Now same is the case with Virat Kohli, he has talent and he is topping up that talent with consistency.

    Azhar Ali must be consistent to rule #.3 spot of Pak batting

  • on January 21, 2014, 6:55 GMT

    Aakash Dhruva, Dravid was actually reasonably faster.

  • on January 21, 2014, 7:06 GMT

    Firstly we had MIANDAD, Then INZAMAM, Then YUSUF, Then YUNUS & MISBAH now surely Pakistan can relief as they have finally found another Dependable Test batsman AZHAR ALI

  • on January 21, 2014, 7:08 GMT

    azhar is a very good talent. but consistency is the thing pak player s are lacking

  • Pindia on January 21, 2014, 7:36 GMT

    Congratulations Azhar Ali, a star is born. Seems like a decent, humble guy too. Azhar and Sarfraz plus the ever-dependable Misbah pulled off this historic win; but the whole team contributed over the five days. Sarfraz and Azhar should be certainties in tests and probably odis too. If they can play like that under huge pressure then they are exactly what Pakistan needs in the batting department.

  • funnykid on January 21, 2014, 7:53 GMT

    It is good to see Azhar Ali back to form but he has to improve his batting. He is not a natural stroke player and also lacks aggression and has very limited range of strokes. Like Misbah, he is a blocker rather than rotating the strike frequently. But Misbah can also play big shots when required which unfortunately Azhar cant. I'll never forget his batting against Petersen in SA wherein he played almost 47 consecutive dots balls and allowed Petersen to settle and take wickets. Against Dale Steyn he was found wanting and had no clue as to how make runs against express pace and movement rather he appeared timid unable to face hostile bowling. No. 3 being pivotal position requires a batsman who can defend as well as attack. Most of No. 3 batsmen have been great stroke players like Zaheer Abbas, Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid etc.