LAHORE: Azhar Ali speaks during the press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.—Courtesy PCB
LAHORE: Azhar Ali speaks during the press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.—Courtesy PCB

LAHORE: Expressing the desire to extend his Test career, veteran Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali on Thursday announced retirement from One-day Internationals.

“Today, I want to announce an important decision: I feel the time is right for me to announce my retirement from ODIs so that I can focus with my full energy on Test cricket and serve Pakistan longer,” the 33-year-old Azhar said during a hurriedly-called press conference here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday.

“I feel honoured that I represented the country in 53 ODIs — 31 as captain — and I have some fond memories of leading some incredibly talented players. I am fully committed to Test cricket and would want to serve the country for as long as I can maintain my form and fitness. I would continue to play domestic one-day and T20 matches,” the right-handed batsman from Lahore added.

“As the former ODI captain I wish the national team the very best for what is an incredibly important season ahead of the World Cup next June. There are some talented young batsmen who are part of the set-up now and I am supremely confident that they will serve Pakistan cricket with distinction.”

Azhar’s captaincy record in ODIs was not impressive. The team lost 18, won only 12 while one ended in no result in the 31 games he skippered Pakistan.

As batsman Azhar, who made his ODI debut in 2011 against Ireland at Belfast, aggregated 1,845 runs in one-dayers at an average of 36.90 with the help of three centuries and 12 half-centuries. He last represented Pakistan in an ODI against New Zealand in January this year at Dunedin. His highest ODI score is 102 which he amassed against Zimbabwe in 2015 at Lahore.

Beating arch-rivals India in last year’s ICC Champions Trophy final at The Oval was the best moment of his ODI career as it was an opportunity for Pakistanis to celebrate a huge success, Azhar said.

He also thanked the PCB for extending him full support at the time when he was appointed captain after Misbah-ul-Haq’s retirement from one-dayers following the 2015 World Cup.

“At first, many people did not accept my ODI captaincy and we lost the first series too but the PCB supported me at that tough time and gradually we started to win. It has always difficult to lead Pakistan cricket team.”

Better known as Test batsman, Azhar possesses a solid average of 44.19 in 67 five-day matches in which the top-order batsman has so far collected 5,303 runs featuring 14 centuries and 29 half-centuries. He struck a marathon 302 not out, his highest Test score, against West Indies in Dubai two years ago.

“I hope my decision [to retire from ODIs] will help me prolong the Test career,” he said.

Azhar assured his full support to incumbent captain and wicket-keeper/batsman Sarfraz Ahmed who is leading Pakistan’s Test, ODI and T20 teams.

“Sarfraz is leading the team well, and is doing good. Recently, he won the Test series [against Australia]. He is handling the team well which is well gelled.”

Meanwhile, PCB chairman Ehsan Mani lauded Azhar’s services for Pakistan cricket.

“Azhar performed admirably for Pakistan in the ODI format. He captained in a time of transition for the national team and did well both as a leader and batsman,” Mani said. “Azhar remains an integral part of Pakistan’s Test team and his decision to quit the ODI format will help him concentrate fully on the longest format and I am confident that he will continue to serve the team with distinction.”

To a question, Azhar said quitting ODIs was not a sudden decision, rather it was a call made after intensive thought process following which, the player insisted, he realised that it was the right time to quit ODIs to maintain focus on Test matches.

Azhar said he decided to continue domestic cricket in all formats, noting there were not many Test matches being played these days. Therefore, he underscored, by featuring in all domestic games he would remain involved in competitive cricket.

The player also dispelled the impression that he took the decision to quit ODIs with a heavy heart, emphasising there was no regret or no hard feeling due to this decision. “I consulted selectors, coaches, captains and friends on this.”

On whether he felt it was tough to retain his place in the ODI squad in the presence of newly-inducted young openers Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman, Azhar said, “As the youngsters are doing well, everyone who is performing should be in the [national[ team.

“However, my decision [to quit ODIs] is purely aimed at improving my performance in Test matches.”

Azhar added that he would try his best to set some records in Test matches, but was quick to add, “I have no specific intention to surpass the records set by great Younis Khan”.

Former captain Younis, who retired from Tests last year, is Pakistan’s highest scorer (10,099 runs) in Test cricket and also holds the record for highest number of centuries (34) for Pakistan in the five-day format.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2018

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