It wasn’t going so well for Azhar Ali till the two-day tour game against Leicestershire.
While on tour in England and Ireland, Ali had managed scores of just 15, 9 and 10 before the one-off Test against Ireland, and it didn’t get any better there, as he scored 4 and 2. With young opening mate Imam-ul-Haq striking 74* to lead Pakistan to victory in Malahide, the pressure was on Ali, but he did his bit to prove his worth with a 127-ball 73 in over three hours at Grace Road.
With Imam rested for the game, Fakhar Zaman opened the batting with Ali and scored a stroke-filled 98-ball 71 too, but considering his experience, Ali might make the XI ahead of the uncapped Zaman.
“We came, and we got some practice games also, a Test match against Ireland – it was a very good game also. We’ve had very good preparation and we are hoping that we can transfer that preparation into the big games against England,” Ali told ESPNcricinfo after the game ended with Leicestershire getting to 226/6 in 75 overs in reply to Pakistan’s 321/9 declared.
The last time Pakistan went to play Test cricket in England – they have since won the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in the same neck of the woods – was in mid-2016, when they drew the four-Test series 2-2. Ali was in good touch then, scoring 295 runs at an average of 42.14, but the two batting pillars were Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, who scored 340 and 282 runs respectively.
Neither is around anymore, leaving the 33-year-old Ali with a big responsibility in the upcoming two-Test series.
“It’s a responsibility definitely, but it’s a team game, and everybody has to chip in,” said Ali. “Obviously as a senior player I have to make sure I play my part. And I will try to do whatever I can to build a platform and make sure we have enough runs on the board to help our bowlers.
“It’s never easy to play in England. Whenever you come, it’s always challenging. The English bowling attack is good as well. We are respectful of that. We know there are big challenges ahead but we are prepared to do our best. It’s a big opportunity for everyone. If we do well here – especially with the youngsters as well, if they do well – things will get easier then.”
Ali also confirmed that Pakistan were going to field a five-pronged bowling attack.
“We want to play attacking cricket, we want to take 20 wickets. That’s why we are going with five bowlers. Hopefully this side will do well for us,” said Ali, perhaps hinting that the five that did duty against Ireland – Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas, Rahat Ali, Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf – will be in the XI come Thursday May 24 when the first Test starts at Lord’s.