LAHORE: While admitting his young team’s performance in the recently-held series in Australia was disappointing, Pakistan’s Test captain Azhar Ali on Friday said the present lot of bowlers, after the premature Test retirements of experienced pacers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir, had the required talent and they would be given more chances to improve their skills.

“As both [Amir and Wahab] are not available [due to their premature retirement from Tests] I am not in a position to talk about them. Yes our new bowling attack is inexperienced but it demonstrated some promise in Australia. Shaheen Shah Afridi has shown consistency and talent, first in South Africa and now in Australia. Moreover, the world is also talking about the potential of our new bowlers [Nasim Shah, Musa Khan], so we will give them more chances to improve,” Azhar said at the press conference in Lahore soon after arriving from Australia on Friday.

An inexperienced Pakistan side were comfortably whitewashed by Australia in the two-Test series Down Under last month. The tourists who were being led by Azhar for the first time in Tests, lost the games in Brisbane and Adelaide by innings. The 0-2 result was the fifth straight whitewash Pakistan suffered in Australia since 1999.

The Adelaide loss was also Pakistan’s sixth consecutive Test defeat.

“We committed mistakes in Australia and it was a disappointing series. We take pride as a cricketing nation and our pride is hurt with two innings defeats for which there can be no excuse. But we believe we were well prepared for the series and went their with positive intent but sometime results do not come according to your expectations,” Azhar, who replaced Sarfraz Ahmed as the country’s Test captain before the Australia series, added.

“We have a young bowling attack and we played catch-up game most of the time. In which sessions we played good cricket we could not captailise those. Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan and a few other batsmen played some good cricket. We have to improve our skills.”

The 34-year-old Azhar, who himself has been struggling for batting form in Tests, hoped he would regain it.

“Yes, my [batting] form is poor but it is not happening that the ball is not coming on my bat or there is any fault in foot work. I know I need to get runs as any other player. And moreover, the captain has to perform to retain his place in the team. I am doing good in the nets but unfortunately I am not scoring [in matches]. But I hope when I start scoring again I will score heavily,” the right-handed Azhar, who posted meagre scores of 39, 5, 9 and 9 in last month’s Australia Tests, said. Azhar had a miserable three-Test tour to South Africa in 2018-19, Pakistan’s last Test assignment before the Australia series, when he could only muster 59 runs in six innings.

“I have played 75 Test matches scoring at all grounds. And it is not that I fear losing the captaincy in case of defeat. After this much experience, it will not give me anything if I keep myself under any sort of pressure,” added Azhar, who has collected 5,731 Test runs at a decent average of 42.45 with 15 centuries and 31 half-centuries, 302 being his highest score.

While denying the impression that a chronic knee injury was preventing him from doing well in cricket, Azhar also refuted some media reports suggesting he intended to settle in England.

“[Rather] I have brought back to Pakistan my son who was studying in England.”

To a question, Azhar said though Pakistan had a plan against prolific Australian opener David Warner, who smashed all Pakistani bowlers with great ease, he (Azhar) applied that plan in the second Test in Adelaide. By that time however, the burly left-handed batsman had regained full form. Warner hit two centuries, including one triple century (335) in Adelaide, to aggregate a massive 489 runs in just two innings he played against Pakistan.

On not playing Abid Ali in Australia, the captain said the right-handed opener was not tested saying southpaw Imam-ul-Haq was a better choice after Haris Sohail was dropped due to his poor form.

“We also trust Abid as he has the ability to serve Pakistan cricket in future for a long time but Imam was given chance because he had played good cricket on our last [Test] tour to South Africa,” Azhar said.

Giving his view on the upcoming home Test series against Sri Lanka, Azhar said he had completed consultations with head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq, and added he always sought his input in selection.

“I heard that only Imran Khan as captain had his own team as selectors at that time had no major role. But now a comprehensive process is in place and we have to follow that process,” Azhar remarked.

Pakistan face Sri Lanka in a two-Test series starting in Rawalpindi on Dec 11. The second Test will be staged in Karachi from Dec 19-23.

Looking ahead, Azhar added, “Now we have to adapt to Pakistan’s playing conditions as we would be featuring in the Tests [against Sri Lanka] here after a long time of ten years. Like many other Pakistan players, I would play my first Test on home soil.”

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2019