AZHAR Ali
AZHAR Ali

SHARJAH: Pakistan’s national cricket team is well prepared to perform at its best on the forthcoming tour of New Zealand despite the final-Test loss against the West Indies in Sharjah, according to batsman Azhar Ali.

Pakistan missed out on a tour whitewash against the West Indies due to a five-wicket loss on the final morning of the third Test, the win being the tourists’ first away Test win against an opposition ranked higher than them since 2007.

It also proved to be the hosts’ first loss of the series having won the T20 and ODI series 3-0. The second-ranked Pakistan now travel to New Zealand for two Tests which will be followed by the tour of Australia.

“A whitewash in all three series would’ve been a great achievement but unfortunately we weren’t able to finish it off,” Azhar, who is Pakistan’s ODI captain, told Dawn after the loss. “But the team is very good with comebacks so it’s not all lost [following the defeat]. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to make a smooth transition from limited-overs cricket to Tests.

ODIs are more about fluent strokeplay while in Tests, you need to make yourself compact and know where your off-stump is.

“But we had enough time to adjust and that’s why it was a good performance when you look at the series as a whole.”

While leg-spinner Yasir Shah was adjudged man of the series for his 21 wickets, Azhar remained the top-scorer in the three Tests. His tally of 474 runs in six innings including a career-best unbeaten 302 in the series-opening pink-ball Test in Dubai.

Azhar also managed two half-centuries, including a 91 in the second-innings in Sharjah before a loose shot proved his downfall.

“That 300 was a proud moment for me. The thing all batsmen try in this format is to play a long innings but the tour has given me a lot of confidence and that’s always a great thing ahead of a tough tour.”

Azhar, who admitted he started his career as a leg-spinner, also revealed he wanted to be used more in the field as a bowler. He was only used for 8.3 overs in the entire Test series due to the presence of Shah, Zulfiqar Babar and all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz.

But having bowled more than 80 overs in 52 Tests, Azhar wants to play a more active role, especially after the omission of Zulfiqar for the tour of New Zealand. “Whenever I get a chance, I try and contribute to the team’s cause. I also try and get a lot of practice in the nets so that when I’m needed to turn my arm over in the middle, I’m ready and well prepared.

“The team didn’t need me that much in this series because we had three spinners, but in Australia or England, when you play three fast-bowlers, that’s where I can contribute as a fifth bowler and put in 10-12 overs in a day to ease the burden of the fast-bowlers.”

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2016