Azhar hopes ICC extends World Test Championship schedule

Updated April 10, 2020

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Skipper seeks to regain batting form. — APP/File
Skipper seeks to regain batting form. — APP/File

LAHORE: Pakistan Test captain Azhar Ali on Thursday expressed the hope that the International Cricket Council (ICC) while considering the global impact of coronavirus pandemic would extend the date of final of the inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) scheduled for June next year.

“In the current situation it seems difficult that all member countries will complete their schedule of the World Test Championship matches. Therefore, I hope the ICC considers this situation to make an extension as it will be fair [only] if all member countries complete their respective schedule of the Tests.” the 35-year-old Azhar said while talking to reporters through a video conference on Thursday.

In order to qualify for the WTC final, Pakistan had to win at least three to four Test matches of the two series they are scheduled to play against England and New Zealand, the right-handed batsman noted. “Our first priority is to reach the final.”

However, Pakistan’s away three-Test series in England scheduled to begin on July 30 during the forthcoming summer is currently in the doldrums because of the pandemic as the England and Wales Cricket Board has suspended its all cricket activities till May 28.

Meanwhile, Azhar backed the idea of playing cricket behind closed doors, due to the virus, and added that steps in this regard could be taken without compromising on public health.

Skipper seeks to regain batting form

“It is unfortunate that fans are not watching any action even on TV and if cricket is played behind closed doors, it will provide fans with an opportunity to watch [at least] some cricket, but the health of the public should not be compromised,” he underlined.

Azhar said he enjoyed a productive collaboration with head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq.

“I have a fine working relationship with Misbah. I have my say in the selection of Test team,” Azhar, a veteran of 78 Tests, said. “It is easier for me to convince just one man [Misbah] to get any player of my choice instead of having a dialogue with two persons separately [head coach and chief selector].”

While acknowledging that Misbah and national team’s bowling coach Wa­q­ar Younis had their own styles of coa­ching, Azhar said the objective of both was “betterment of Pakistan cricket”.

Azhar, who has scored 5,919 Test runs at an average of 42.58, said as captain he preferred to lead the team according to the situation, and with his performance he would remove the tag of ‘defensive captain’.

“You have to lead the team according to the situation and keeping in mind the resources available to you. Therefore, calling me a defensive captain is wrong and I will prove it with my performances,” he insisted.

Azhar was installed as Pakistan’s Test skipper in place of a faltering Sarfraz Ahmed in October last year. Under Azhar, Pakistan were whitewashed 2-0 in Australia a month later. In December, Pakistan bagged a two-match home Test rubber 1-0 against Sri Lanka as full Test action returned to Pakistan after more than ten years. In February this year, Pakistan comfortably outplayed a lowly Bangladesh by an innings and 44 runs at Rawalpindi in the first of the two Tests. The second Test, scheduled for Karachi in early April, could not be staged amid the coronavirus crisis.

During the said Tests, captain Azhar’s batting form has nosedived as he could only score 250 runs in eight innings of these matches at a modest average of 31.25.

About his own batting performance, Azhar said he was trying to regain the form he was enjoying before facing a knee injury.

“It is unfortunate that I faced the injury when I was at my peak, performing well in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy,” the skipper recalled.

Azhar said his primary aim as captain was to make the Test team a unit of fearless competitors who could perform to their full potential and skills under crunch situations.

He claimed that Pakistan’s Test team, currently seventh in ICC rankings, had emerged as a good combination of exciting players.

“Though Pakistan [over the years] have held a poor track record in away Test matches particularly in England and Australia, our late series against Australia and South Africa had some positive,” Azhar stated.

Azhar claimed he was well on the road to achieving the targets he had set as captain. “I will try my best to maintain the continuity in team selection by giving fair chances to the deserving players.”

Answering a question, Azhar said that if the coronavirus lingered on it would be a challenge for everyone to come out easily from its impact.

He said to keep the players fit both physically and mentally, it was essential for them to continue their exercises and practice with the resources available at home.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2020