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'Emotional' Azhar Ali set to play his first Test in hometown Lahore

Lahore will host a Test for the first time since the format returned to Pakistan in 2019

"My family, my friends will all be at the ground. It's a very emotional moment for me"  •  AFP/Getty Images

"My family, my friends will all be at the ground. It's a very emotional moment for me"  •  AFP/Getty Images

Nearly 12 years into his international career, 93 Tests, almost 7000 runs and 19 hundreds to the good, Azhar Ali is finally coming home.
On Monday, when he steps out on the field at the Gaddafi Stadium against Australia, Azhar will be playing his first Test on what is his home ground. The final Test of the series, without a result so far, is the first in the city of Pakistan's headquarters since Tests returned to the country in late 2019. Pakistan have played Tests in Karachi and Rawalpindi since then.
"It's a really emotional feeling," Azhar told the PCB website. "When you're young, Gaddafi Stadium is such an iconic venue. Whenever we would go past it, I would think I really want to play at this ground.
"I've played at first-class level here, of course, but since my Test debut all our cricket has been outside Pakistan. At one time, we felt like we might never play a Test in Pakistan again. But finally, we have a chance - we waited so long to play in Pakistan, and then after returning have had to wait longer to play in Lahore."
Although it is everyone's first Test in Lahore, Azhar will cherish it more than most in the side. Now in the final stages of his career, he has been an essential part of the Misbah-ul-Haq era in which all of Pakistan's finest moments came outside the country.
Azhar's highest Test score - the triple-hundred against West Indies - was made in a day-night Test in Dubai, an occasion lacking in any atmosphere whatsoever.
"My triple-century, when I made it, it was such a big thing for me and you wave your bat around to all the crowd to celebrate them and appreciate them. When I started doing that there, I waved to one stand where about a hundred people were sitting. Then I turned around to the other stands and there was no one else there.
"In Pindi and Karachi, when we have gotten centuries, it has been a totally different feeling, the acknowledgment that we get, the support, the adulation. For so long we didn't get that. And for youngsters coming through and for those in the team, it is a real motivation."
Azhar began this series well, with a 185 in Rawalpindi that meant he is now Pakistan's third-most prolific run-scorer against Australia. Karachi didn't go quite as well though the Gaddafi Stadium will be an occasion unlike any other.
"It's a real happy occasion for me," he said. "After such a long career, I'm going to play a Test at my home ground. My family, my friends will all be at the ground. It's a very emotional moment for me.
"It's just a really different feeling. I saw when we played cricket in Pakistan again, of course we had an idea that we missed it but only after playing did we realise how many things we missed. Our achievements, our performances, they never got highlighted as much before and we also didn't enjoy it as much."