You could say the captaincy crown may be weighing heavy on Azhar Ali‘s head at the minute.
If the 0-2 series loss against Australia in their own backyard in 2019-20 led to unflattering whispers on his leadership skills, the agonizing defeat in the first Test of the ongoing away series against England set off a chorus of voices back home, calling for his head.
As if the run of overseas defeats on his watch wasn’t bad enough, his batting hasn’t won him too many admirers in the recent past.
His leadership in the first Test of the ongoing series at the Emirates Old Trafford was called into question many wondered why Pakistan couldn’t bring home the gravy despite bossing the better part of 15 sessions of cricket.
Azhar Ali’s field placements were frowned upon and openly criticised as despite having England at 117/5, he set an open field for Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes, allowing them to turn the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking over.
The pundits were bemused how he let the game drift, showing little or no intent to put more close-in catchers around the bat. Buttler (75) and Woakes (84*) eventually put together a stand of 139 runs to take the match from under Pakistan’s nose.
Mincing no words about what he felt of Azhar’s on-field decisions in the game, former Pakistan skipper Wasim Akram said he “missed a trick” several times. “It (Old Trafford defeat) will hurt the Pakistan team and cricket lovers back home.
Winning and losing is part of cricket, but I think our captain missed a trick quite a few times in the game, as far as his leadership is concerned,” the former left-arm quick said.
Akram said he was surprised that Pakistan didn’t try to bounce Woakes out early, considering his weakness negotiating short-pitched deliveries. “When Woakes came in, there were no bouncers, no short deliveries.
They let him settle down and runs were coming easy,” the former Pakistan captain said.
Even as his captaincy has been hotly debated back home, Azhar’s prolonged lean patch with the bat has further compounded his woes. While his career average in Test cricket stands at a decent average of 41.95, with 16 hundreds and 31 fifties, it doesn’t do justice to someone of his talent and ability.
His returns in the longest format as captain makes for woeful reading, as he has tallied a mere 347 runs at an average of 26.69. His win-loss ratio in 8 Tests as captain stands at 2:4, hardly a record to boast of.
While acknowledging his extended dry run with the willow ahead of the final Test at the Ageas Bowl, Azhar voiced hope of ending his lean spell in Southampton. With his returns in the ongoing series a mere 38 runs in 3 innings, Azhar said he was working on fixing his batting flaws. “I’m trying to work on my balance. I felt better in my last game.
I was at the crease for over two hours and felt confident. But sometimes you get a good ball. My focus now will be to build on my experience from the second Test. Obviously, I’m trying to work on the flaws as much as it’s possible in the middle of a series,” Azhar said at a press conference ahead of the Southampton Test.
While his captaincy is under scrutiny, Azhar said he was ‘enjoying’ his job of leading the Pakistan team. “I’m lucky to have such a nice bunch of guys who are putting everything in for Pakistan.
They’ve gelled very nicely and made the job very easy for me so that I can focus on strategies and all of that. I’m enjoying it (captaincy) and hopefully, we can win this Test match and move forward from there,” Azhar said.
While his place in the side has been called into question, Azhar has another couple of innings, with weather permitting, to regain form and silence his detractors.
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