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Who is Azhar Ali - Get to know the new Pakistan captain

Why new Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali's strike-rate is not as big a factor as critics make it out to be

Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Shahryar Khan (R) addresses the media along with newly appointed one-day international captain Azhar Ali (L) in Lahore on March 30, 2015. Pakistan's cricket chiefs March 30 named batsman Azhar Ali as the national side's new one-day international captain.  
 

As was widely expected, Azhar Ali was announced as the captain of Pakistan's ODI team yesterday. He was also announced as the vice-vaptain of the Test team, which means that he is most likely to take over as captain once Misbah retires.

Though this is Pakistan and anything can happen, Azhar taking over Test captaincy from Misbah is the most likely scenario.

Azhar's elevation to ODI captaincy has met with scathing criticism from the public. A large proportion of the public has been criticizing Azhar Ali's strike-rate, which at 39.56 in Tests and 64.84 in ODIs makes for dismal reading. He averages 41 in both forms of the game, which means he can score, but the main problem seems to be with the way he scores. It is too slow for ODIs according to most people.

Azhar Ali himself knows that. He is not ignorant. In the press conference where PCB Chairman, Shaharyar Khan, announced Azhar Ali as ODI captain, Azhar was asked the question about his strike-rate. He responded by saying: "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."

Now there is a trait of a captain. To take the answer head on and respond with the confidence that he did showed to me at least that he knew what he was talking about.

Coming back to why he was selected as ODI captain, Shaharyar Khan said: "I know he hasn't played ODI cricket for 2 years. But in the Pentangular Cup that we conducted he was very impressive. His batting and captaincy were both impressive and we felt he was the best man for the job."

Whether you agree with the choice or not you cannot take away the reasoning that has been provided by Shaharyar Khan. It is honest, according to him the right decision, and he made sure he let everyone know that. Rarely do we see such confidence and honesty in Pakistani press conferences.

Now let's take a look at whether Azhar's and Shaharyar Sb's statements hold any weight or not.

Pentangular Cup

The tournament was held in January this year, and according to the PCB, at the time it was a trial period for all cricketers in preparation for the World Cup.

Azhar Ali captained Baluchistan Warriors in that tournament. Baluchistan reached the final of the Pentangular Cup, and even though they lost to KPK in the final, the fact that they reached there instead of the more fancied Sindh and Punjab means that Azhar did play some role. You can't take that away from him.

With 302 runs in 5 innings at an average of 60.4 and a strike rate of 86.3, Azhar was also the leading run scorer of the Pentangular Cup.

No one should have any complaints with that strike-rate.

Following are Azhar’s 5 innings in the tournament: 

  • 17 off 42 vs KPK
  • 117 off 133 vs Sindh
  • 75 off 92 vs Federal United
  • 72 off 56 vs Punjab
  • 21 off 27 vs KPK

Besides that first game, his strike-rate was not an issue in any of the other matches. The innings of 72 off 56 deliveries came in a game where Baluchistan had to chase a target of 316 in 42 overs to qualify for the final, and Azhar led from the front with that knock against a bowling attack that included international players like Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Talha, and Raza Hasan.

President's Gold One Day Cup

Following the Pentangular Cup, there was the President's Gold One Day Cup where Azhar Ali represented his domestic department, Sui-Northern Gas.

Even in that tournament, Azhar was among the runs with 234 runs in 4 innings at an average of 58.5 and a strike rate of 87.0! Once again, no one can have any complaints with that strike-rate!

Following are Azhar's 4 innings scores in the Gold One Day Cup:

  • 0 off 7 vs Karachi Dolphins
  • 40 off 63 vs Peshawar Panthers
  • 57 off 81 vs National Bank of Pakistan
  • 128 off 118 vs ZTBL

Not as impressive as in the Pentangular, but impressive enough.

Azhar said that he has been improving on the strike-rate aspect in domestic cricket, and his performance in Pakistan's last two domestic tournaments pretty much prove that he has. Shaharyar Khan said that they were impressed with Azhar's batting and captaincy in the Pentangular Cup, and the aforementioned numbers explain why. 

Now the only question that remains is, will Azhar Ali be able to replicate the same form in international cricket? The answer to that is, we will just have to wait and see.

I will be the first to admit that I am not in favour of this decision. But I will also say that now that he is at the helm, we can only get behind him and support him.

And hope that he can live up to people's expectations and bat at a better strike-rate, otherwise there will be a massive trolling campaign against him, which will hold him at the pedestal that was once only for Misbah.

I don't think there are any doubts over his Test credentials, but if there are just read this.

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