Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson, and Steve Smith are currently regarded to be the best batsmen in the world as they have produced a number of consistent performances across all formats of the sport in the past couple of years. There are very few players who can match their abilities, currently.
However, there has been one batsman who has been doing very well in international cricket but it seems like he isn’t getting enough credit and recognition than he should. This player is none other than Pakistan’s ODI skipper Azhar Ali.
Test debut and a regular in the Pakistan Test team
Ali made his Test debut for Pakistan in 2010 against Australia and scored 129 runs in four innings at an average of 32.25, getting a fifty in his second Test. Soon he became a regular in the Test team and made his ODI debut in 2011 against Ireland.
The Pakistani batsman performed consistently in Tests but a few lacklustre performances in ODIs during the end of 2012 saw him dropped from the ODI Team.
However, his brilliant performances with the bat in Tests and Misbah-ul-Haq’s retirement from ODI cricket following the 2015 World Cup propelled the selectors to recall him to the ODI team after two years and he was immediately given the mantle of captaincy ahead of wicket-keeper batsman Sarfraz Ahmed.
Come back to the ODI Team and ODI captaincy
In his first ODI since January 2013 and as captain, Ali scored a brilliant 72 against Bangladesh which eventually would go in vain as Bangladesh would go on to win the match by 79 runs. Even though Pakistan were whitewashed by Bangladesh, Ali performed brilliantly with the bat throughout the Bangladesh tour, getting scores of 36 and 101 (which was his maiden ODI century) in the next two matches.
He performed brilliantly during the Test series as Pakistan won 1-0 and he was named the Player of the Series, mainly due to his brilliant knock of 226 in the second Test at Dhaka. His brilliant form with the bat continued as he was named the Player of the Series in the ODI series against Zimbabwe, scoring 227 runs at an impressive average of 75.66.
In 2016, Ali was in terrific form in Tests as he scored 1198 runs at an impressive average of 63.05 with the highlight of his year his majestic knock of 302 against the West Indies at Dubai. He became the first player to score a century, double-century, and triple-century in a day-night Test match. He ended 2016 brilliantly with a brilliant 205 against Australia at Melbourne.
His ODI performances were not very consistent as he scored 341 runs at an average of 31 with a wonderful 101 against West Indies being his highest ODI scored of the year. So far, Ali has scored 4707 Test runs at an average of 47.07 and has garnered 25 half-centuries and 12 centuries. In ODIs, he has scored 1592 runs at an average of 39.80, hitting nine fifties and three hundreds.
Through his consistent performances, he has established himself as one of the most important cricketers in the Pakistan team.
Why Azhar Ali is not held in the same regard as Kohli
Despite his impressive numbers lately, Ali has not been considered in the same category as the likes of Kohli, Root, Smith, or Williamson even though all five have similar Test records. One of the main reasons behind this could be the fact that his numbers in the past two years haven’t been as impressive as the other four in the ODI format, despite the fact that Kohli and Root have played as many ODIs as Ali has played in 2015 and 2016, with Kohli playing one ODI less than Ali in 2016 and scoring more than twice as much as Ali.
Another major reason could be the fact that the other four have shown brilliant performances in T20Is whereas Ali has not played a single T20I as a result of which he might not be gaining enough popularity compared to the other four.
The likes of Kohli, Root, Williamson and Smith are known for their in-your face attitude which Ali has yet to unleash so far. His attitude is a very stoic one where he does not express too many emotions. The four have all played a huge role in their respective team’s victories.
However, Ali has also been unlucky; on a number of occasions when he has performed brilliantly, his teammates have let him and the team down through their dismal performances. A number of Ali’s performances have seen Pakistan end up losing the match.
As of now, Azhar Ali has not been considered in the same category as Kohli, Root, Smith or Williamson but then again, he has not been very active in all formats of the sport as he has just started to perform in the ODI format.
Nevertheless, the kind of form he has been in lately, there is no denying that a few years later, he will be held in the same regard as Kohli, Root, Smith, and maybe even surpass them.