Azhar optimistic about levelling Test series against England
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Azhar Ali Thursday showed optimism regarding Pakistan’s chances and believes the team’s performance in the series has been good enough to merit a win as Pakistan look to level the Test series against England at the Rose Bowl and ease some of the swirling debate that surrounds his captaincy.
Pakistan have won just two of their seven Tests since Azhar took over from Sarfaraz Ahmed last October and the softly spoken 35-year-old has produced just one notable score – 118 against Sri Lanka in Karachi – during an otherwise lean spell with the bat.
The defeat in the first Test despite being in a strong position has also added pressure on Azhar as his captaincy and performance both have come under scrutiny.
The visitors will be playing to avoid their first series defeat in the five-day format against England in 10 years when they take to the field in Southampton on Friday.
“At the moment we are in a very good space and we think we have everything to win the final Test match. As a player, a professional and a captain you have to look at the challenge ahead of you,” Azhar said during an online interaction with the media.
“We have played very good cricket in this series,” said Ali. “Unfortunately we lost the first Test when we were the better team throughout. Therefore, we have a lot of positives from that match to take into the third Test. Players showed a lot of character in the second Test, despite losing the series opener in the way we did in Manchester. It is very hard to bounce back after such defeats but the way the players fought in the second Test is very heartening to see for the team management.”
“I’m lucky to have such a nice bunch of guys who are putting everything in for Pakistan. They have gelled really nicely which makes the job very easy for me so I focus on all the strategies. I’m enjoying it. Hopefully, we can win this Test and move forward from there.”
Mohammad Abbas enjoyed the conditions during the first outing in Southampton and though Shaheen Afridi and Naseem Shah are still just 20 and 17, respectively, Azhar wants to further their education rather than draft in a more experienced seamer such as Sohail Khan, who took two five-wicket hauls during their two warm-ups. Azhar said he will continue to back the two inexperienced quicks in his bowling attack.
“Shaheen and Naseem are exciting characters and you can’t buy experience without playing. We have to back them, they are bowling really well, putting the opposition under pressure. At the end of last year we were struggling for fast bowlers when we went to Australia, they have taken up the challenge and impressed everyone around the world. They have so much potential, experience will come. I still feel they are good enough to win Test matches for Pakistan.”
About his own form with the bat, Azhar said he was feeling really confident about himself in the two hours or so he spent at the crease in his previous innings.
“My balance was good as well. It is my responsibility to make sure that I score runs.”
Azhar said he is confident him and veteran middle-order batsman Asad Shafiq will be able to produce the goods in the third Test.
“As experienced batsmen, we have the responsibility to score runs for the team in these testing conditions. I know I have not managed to score the kind of runs expected of me and Asad is struggling as well. But he is an experienced player and a match-winner. We are backing him to come good in the third Test. Hopefully, both of us will play a huge part in helping Pakistan win the third Test.”