Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Get to know your Captain

As was widely expected, Azhar Ali was announced captain of Pakistan's ODI team yesterday. He was also announced as the Vice Captain 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, this is the most likely scenario.

Azhar's elevation to ODI captain has come 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. His response was:

"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 Ali 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 Ali was also the leading run scorer of the Pentangular Cup.

No one should have any complaints with that strike rate.

Azhar's 5 innings in the Pentangular Cup shows that he scored:

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 Ali 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!

Azhar's 4 innings in the Gold One Day Cup were:

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 Ali said that he worked on his strike rate and improved it in domestic cricket and his performance in Pakistan's last two domestic tournaments pretty much proved that he has.

Shaharyar Khan said that they were impressed with Azhar's batting and captaincy in the Pentangular Cup and this also shows that they had to be.

Now the only question that remains is, will Azhar Ali be able to replicate the same form in international cricket?

For that, 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.

Make your pitch on this post...

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