Important to believe a good knock will get things rolling - Azhar

Azhar Ali anchored Pakistan's batting on the second morning Getty Images

For the best part of the aughties, from 2002 to 2010, Pakistani batting against Australia was a long, unending tale of misery. There were moments, such as Mohammad Yousuf's MCG hundred, Faisal Iqbal's 83 in Colombo, Hasan Raza's twin fifties in Sharjah and Salman Butt's Australian hundreds. Otherwise, the slimmest of pickings and the failures of men such as Inzamam-ul-Haq and Yousuf (apart from that hundred) has been the starkest emblem of an era of Australian dominance.

So the record Azhar Ali has built up against Australia is primarily disorienting, because he's the first Pakistani batsman in a generation or more to truly dominate. It doesn't feel that way because of the relatively sedate style of his game. He is not a Sehwag or KP tearing into them.

Yet, of all the Pakistani batsmen who have played at least eight Tests against Australia, nobody averages more than Azhar's 61.35. A good Test in Abu Dhabi, and Azhar could be 1000 runs to the good, in only his ninth Test against them.

Except that a good Test isn't guaranteed at this moment. It's not as if Azhar is in poor form. It's just that he's not in the stellar form he was through 2016 and 2017. In 12 innings since last year, when he became the side's senior-most batsman, he has three fifties. It isn't great, but he's never looked so out of form as to be considered in crisis.

In Dubai though, he did struggle, especially in that first innings, where an 80-ball 18 was reminiscent of Azhar circa 2010 rather than the more fluent 2016 version.

"On these wickets, you have to take time," Azhar said in Abu Dhabi, ahead of the second Test that begins on Tuesday. "With the hard ball, you still manage to score, but as soon as the ball gets soft, it becomes difficult. Especially when there is wicket-to-wicket bowling, then you have to show all the more patience.

"The key to batting will be to be patient and look for opportunities to score and try and absorb the pressure. It is the key even when you are facing the new ball or batting in anytime of the day."

Not helping will be the uncertainty over his position, something that has lingered across every series he has played since 2016, when he first became a Test opener on a semi-permanent basis. This last year, he has batted at No. 3 for a series, opened for a series, and was scheduled to bat at three again this series. But Imam-ul-Haq's fractured finger has meant he is back in the running to open alongside Mohammad Hafeez.

Pakistan could opt to give Fakhar Zaman a Test debut, but in either scenario, Azhar will be ready. And he probably wouldn't mind much where he plays against these opponents. He had twin hundreds in Abu Dhabi against these opponents four years ago, from one-down. And in Australia in 2016-17 he scored big runs as an opener, including an MCG double. "While playing for Pakistan, one has to be ready for everything. I have always believed in that, and whatever the team management decides or the captain decides, I will be ready to do that.

"The important thing is to stay focused and try and believe that once you get a good knock behind you, things will start rolling again.

"Any international team will try to read you, but it is your job to counter the plans they set for you. I don't think they have planned any stuff that is special. They have bowled according to conditions and that's how you play on these wickets.

"I have worked hard and I feel it is a matter of just one innings. If I can score big, then everything will fall into place."