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Match Analysis

Azam Khan catches the eye again as Strikers snap Samp Army's winning streak

A belligerent T10 campaign has followed success in the CPL, but no franchise league, he says, can match "the charm of representing Pakistan"

Aadam Patel
Azam Khan was the second-highest run-getter among overseas players in CPL 2022  •  CPL T20 via Getty Images

Azam Khan was the second-highest run-getter among overseas players in CPL 2022  •  CPL T20 via Getty Images

Azam Khan has always had big boots to fill; of course, he would, as the son of former Pakistan cricketer Moin Khan.
Perhaps a debut at international level came a tad too early. Or he didn't really get a proper chance? Azam played three T20Is for Pakistan in July 2021, batting twice and scoring just six runs off the seven deliveries he faced. But he hasn't played at the highest level since.
Surely his time will come again; it is question of when rather than if. But right now, Azam is striking the ball as well as he has ever done.
Fresh from an impressive CPL campaign where his 257 runs were second only to Faf du Plessis in terms of overseas players, Azam was in fine touch again in Abu Dhabi. His 47* off 21 deliveries was a joy to watch on Monday night, as New York Strikers became the first team to defeat Moeen Ali's Morrisville Samp Army at the Abu Dhabi T10, winning by 12 runs.
Azam's hitting was sweet throughout, but in the disdainful way he treated two experienced pace bowlers in Sheldon Cottrell and Anrich Nortje caught the eye in particular.
The 24-year-old took Cottrell for 16 in the seventh over, first slamming one over long-on for six before audaciously sweeping him over deep backward square leg for six more, and finishing the over with a scoop to the boundary.
Off Nortje, Azam went 6, 4, 6 before the South African trapped him with a yorker to leave Azam just three short of his half-century. He now has 118 runs in 67 balls across four games in Season 6 of the Abu Dhabi T10 at an average just shy of 40, and looks to be going from strength to strength. Post-match, Azam spoke of the way he has worked on his hitting against pace bowlers.
"I've been practising on really high speeds on the bowling machine whenever I'm not playing, so I'm not afraid of pace anymore," he said. "There was a perspective in Pakistan that I can't face pace, but I'm playing all over the globe now [while] scoring runs. It's tough but you have to be on your feet every time and work hard in the gym, which I am doing."
In the clash of the new franchises, Strikers struck first with a total of 110 despite losing wickets throughout. Kieron Pollard had to use eight bowlers but they did the job to put Strikers level on points with Samp Army.
First Pollard removed the dangerous Johnson Charles, before Paul Stirling picked up the prize wicket of David Miller. But Moeen and Shimron Hetmyer kept Samp Army in the game, and after they took Ravi Rampaul for 16 in the eighth over, the equation was down to 31 required off 12 balls.
Hetmyer slogged Jordan Thompson for six, but the very next ball the West Indian found his countryman Pollard. Moeen was on strike for Rampaul's final over, with 16 needed off the last four balls.
Rampaul set an off-side heavy field, and the bluff worked as Moeen stepped across and was clean bowled trying to slog away to the leg side; and two balls later, Dwaine Pretorius faced the same fate.
It was a mightily impressive win for Strikers, especially after falling from 66 for 2 to 110 for 8, but if anything, it showcased the value of having genuine six-hitters. Azam's five sixes were one more than all of Samp Army's combined, and after an impressive CPL, all he can do is keep knocking on the door for selection for his country.
"It hasn't been easy for me - people think I'm a product of nepotism," he said. "I'm performing all over the world now, so it's up to them if they want to select me."
After a World Cup where perhaps the Pakistani batting order could be criticised for applying a somewhat timid approach, Azam represents something daring and slightly more dazzling: a desire to embrace risk and take on the game. Ultimately, these experiences in franchise leagues around the world can only do Azam good in his larger quest to follow in the footsteps of his father and play for his national team.
"The charm of representing Pakistan is such that no T20 league can match it", Azam had said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo earlier this year. All he can do is keep on doing his thing if he wants that feeling again.

Aadam Patel is a freelance sports reporter who has written for BBC Sport, the Daily Mail, ESPNcricinfo, the Cricketer and other publications @aadamp9