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Don't we all want a stable, confident, and self-critical person? — Reuters

Azhar Ali: Crucified before the battle

With the proverbial arm band not yet on, the number 79 jersey still folded neatly, Azhar faces a serious predicament.
Updated 10 Apr, 2015 11:58am

You know things are bad when you are crucified for something you haven't even done yet.

That's the predicament Pakistan's new ODI captain Azhar Ali is faced with; the proverbial arm band not yet on, the number 79 jersey still folded neatly in the closet.

For many, the criticism of Azhar by experts and fans is a continuation of the scorn heaped on outgoing skipper Misbah-ul-Haq. For the past five years the 40-year-old received more flak than all of his predecessors combined and it was so intense that it has naturally been transferred onto the unassuming Azhar.

Have we hit a new low as a cricketing nation?

The main talking point is the 30-year-old's strike rate. Despite an average of 41 in both Tests and ODIs, his strike rate of 39.56 in Tests and 64.84 in ODIs makes for dismal reading. He has scored runs; the problem is in the manner in which he has scored them. Remind you of anyone?

I don't think anyone has a problem with Azhar's elevation as vice-captain of the Test team. He is among the leading run scorers for Pakistan in the longest format of the game in the five years since his debut. Besides Younis Khan, no one has scored more Test centuries for Pakistan than Azhar Ali in that time period.

He had been earmarked to captain Pakistan in Tests for a long while now and it only makes sense that he is the appointed deputy as Misbah's career winds down.

But as Pakistan's new ODI captain his critics seem to have three major issues:

  1. He has not played ODI cricket for two years

  2. He was not part of the World Cup squad

  3. His strike rate is not good enough

Let us focus a bit on why Azhar was appointed captain of Pakistan's ODI team.

"I know he hasn't played ODI cricket for 2 years. But in the Pentangular Cup he was very impressive. His batting and captaincy were both impressive and we felt he was the best man for the job," Shaharyar Khan said during his press conference when he announced Pakistan's new ODI captain.

The PCB has been giving a lot of weight to the Pentangular One Day Cup that was held during the first two weeks of January. Rightly so, considering that the country's leading 75 cricketers compete in that tournament; therefore the best 15 should represent the national team. That makes sense, doesn't it? Do people remember Azhar's performance in that Pentangular Cup though?

Not only was Azhar the leading run-scorer in the tournament, he also led the Balochistan Warriors to the final, rousing the interest of the PCB.

"I am aware that my strike rate is not good. I have worked on this problem and have improved it in domestic cricket. Insha'Allah, I will be able to do the same in international cricket and results will be for all to see, " Azhar said upon his appointment the new captain.

There is a trait that everyone looks for in a captain. The ability to own up to faults and take criticism head on. Azhar's confident response to the criticism so far shows that he is aware of what needs to be done, that he he means business.

His performance in the Pentangular Cup coupled with his performance in the President's Gold One Day Cup (234 runs in 4 innings at an average of 58.5 and a strike rate of 87) demonstrated that the level-headed batsman has worked tremendously hard in improving the fluency of his knocks.

Azhar is fairly senior given that he has been around with the Pakistan Test team for half a decade now. He is well respected in the dressing room. The senior statesmen Misbah and Younis Khan speak very highly of him. Waqar Younis, reportedly, also backed his appointment.

What more does one need in a captain? Don't we all want a stable, confident, and self-critical person? If Azhar was always the best choice to take over the Test team, does it not make sense to make him the leader of the the ODI team as well? Is it fair that we are passing judgment before he has even taken the team on the field?

Only time will tell whether he can live up to the billing of Pakistan's next international captain, but till then I believe it is only fair that we give the man a chance.

We must also realise that he would be under already be under the cosh when he walks out to lead the team in greens; such is the pressure we have put on him.

Azhar has the confidence of the board. He has the confidence of the team management. More importantly, he has the confidence of his own players.

Its time he got the confidence of the public as well.


Umair Qazi is the founder of wellpitched.com, co-founder of the popular facebook group 'Boys in Green', and he tweets @wellpitched