Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Azhar Ali & Asad Shafiq have been Epic Failures

When Pakistan's greatest test batsman, Younis Khan, and most capped test captain, Misbah Ul Haq, retired in May 2017, we all thought; rather we all knew that Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq were ready to take over the role of Pakistan's leading test batsmen.

Till that time, Azhar and Asad had played all their test cricket in a batting line up that was built around the backbone of Younis and Misbah.

Azhar made the number 3 position his own and even excelled as an opener; while Asad always provided solid support at number 6.

Both of them excelled in their respective roles.

So much so, that Azhar was Pakistan's leading run scorer in tests during the period between July 2010, when he made his debut, and May 2017, when Younis and Misbah called time on their careers.

During this period, Azhar was also the 5th highest run scorer in tests, with only Alastair Cook, David Warner, Steve Smith, and Kane Williamson ahead of him. He scored more than the likes of Younis, Sangakkara, Kohli, Amla, and Root during these 8 years!

Azhar truly excelled as an opener during this time, scoring a triple hundred, as well as a double hundred at the MCG! His average of 55 as an opener during this period (2010-17) was the highest among all batsmen who opened in at least 10 test innings.

Asad, on the other hand, made number 6 popular again. During these 8 years, he became the most successful test number 6 ever scoring more runs at that position than anyone (barring Steve Waugh) in the history of the game.

He also created the record of scoring the most test centuries from number 6, breaking a record held by Sir Gary Sobers!

Azhar and Asad were more than ready to take charge of Pakistan's test batting when Younis and Misbah bid adieu to the game.

12 tests in since the retirement of the two legends, and I have come to realize that Azhar and Asad will never be the test batting greats that they could have been!

They have been epic disappointments for Pakistan's test team and I solely blame them for the rut that Pakistan's test team has been for the past 18 months or so.

When Javed Miandad and Saleem Malik moved on in the 90s, they passed on the torch to the likes of Inzamam Ul Haq, Mohammad Yousuf, and Younis Khan. When Inzi and MoYo moved on, Misbah Ul Haq joined Younis Khan to take Pakistan's batting forward. Azhar and Asad should have done the same.

They were ready and had been groomed; however they have been major failures, which has resulted in embarrassing test losses for Pakistan.

To put things in perspective, take a look at the difference in their performance in the two periods.


The dip in Azhar's performance is alarming. Asad's performance has not decreased as significantly as Azhar's, but when we look at his performances in context of the matches, you will realize how he has been a big reason for Pakistan's failures.

Here's a look at what Azhar and Asad did in the 12 tests that Pakistan have played since Younis and Misbah retired.

PAKISTAN vs SRI LANKA - 2 TESTS IN UAE

Pakistan's first assignment in the new era was a two test series against Sri Lanka in the UAE, a fortress for Pakistan where they did not lose a single test series in 7 years under Misbah. In those 7 years, Pakistan lost only 4 tests in the UAE.

Sri Lanka, severely depleted themselves since Sangakkara and Jayawardene retired, completely blanked Pakistan in both the tests resulting in Pakistan losing their first ever test series in the UAE since it became their official home.

The loss hurt, but the manner of the loss hurt even more.

Pakistan lost the first test by 21 runs when they failed to chase a target of 136. Azhar went for a second ball duck and Asad managed only 20.

Pakistan lost the second test by 68 runs. In the first innings, Azhar failed to build on his 59 and Shafiq went for 12 as Pakistan conceded a huge lead. In the second innings, Pakistan were chasing an improbable 317 but Asad Shafiq could not close the game despite scoring 112.


PAKISTAN vs IRELAND - 1 TEST AWAY

Pakistan just scraped through to a 5 wicket win thanks to Imam Ul Haq and Babar Azam. Chasing 160, Pakistan were reeling at 14-3 and looking at an embarrassing loss to test first timers. Azhar's 2 and Asad's 1 contributed to the 14-3 situation. 


PAKISTAN vs ENGLAND - 2 TESTS AWAY

Pakistan's test win at Lord's was probably the biggest shock of 2018. The test showed the importance of Azhar and Asad to Pakistan's test team as their innings of 50 and 59 respectively helped Pakistan take a first innings lead resulting in a victory scripted by Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Aamer, and Hasan Ali.

In the next test however, Pakistan succumbed to an innings defeat. Azhar and Asad contributed 2 & 11 and 27 & 5 respectively.



PAKISTAN vs AUSTRALIA - 2 TEST IN UAE

Asad had a decent series with scores of 80, 41, 0 and 44. Those scores show that he has the ability but they also show his lack of concentration, focus, and motivation to build on a laid platform.

Azhar, on the other hand, continued to disappoint, with scores of 18, 4, 15, and 64.

While Pakistan won the series 1-0, it could have very easily been 1-0 to Australia had Fakhar and Sarfraz not saved them from 57-5 in the first innings of the second test. That scoreline of 57-5 was 57-1 at one stage before Lyon wrecked havoc with 4 wickets in 6 deliveries including Azhar (15) and Asad (0).


PAKISTAN vs NEW ZEALAND - 3 TESTS IN UAE

Azhar and Asad continued to disappoint against New Zealand as their failure resulted in Pakistan losing the first test of the series by a mere 4 runs.

They failed to capitalize on their platform in the first innings falling for 22 and 43 respectively; and then miserably failed in the second innings as Pakistan failed to chase a target of 176. Asad fell for 45 while Azhar was last man out for 65 unable to score 5 more runs required for a win.

Pakistan won the second test quite comfortably and Azhar added 81 to an innings dominated by Haris Sohail and Babar Azam. Asad could only manage 12 runs in Pakistan's solitary innings.

The third test of the series, and 10th test since the retirement of Younis and Misbah, finally showed the world what everyone had been waiting for.

Azhar and Asad came together at 85-3 and put on a 200 run partnership for the 4th wicket. Both knocked centuries with Azhar scoring 134 and Asad 104. Had they finally arrived as the batting leaders they were supposed to be?

Their partnership helped Pakistan secure a first innings lead and a possible series win.

But that was not meant to be, as Pakistan's batsmen failed to survive two sessions on the final day and crumbled for 156 in a match that could have very easily been drawn had they just batted the day out.

At a time when Azhar and Asad just needed to put on a rearguard they disappointed in epic proportions falling for 4 and a first ball duck respectively.


PAKISTAN vs SOUTH AFRICA - 2 TESTS AWAY

The end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 brought the toughest test yet for Pakistan's batsmen. No one expected much of them on this ongoing tour, but one at least expected some sort of fight.

In the first test, Pakistan managed only 181 with Azhar and Asad contributing 36 and 7 respectively.

Pakistan's bowlers did really well to restrict South Africa's lead to just 40 odd runs and then Imam Ul Haq and Shan Masood played beautifully to wipe out that lead and take Pakistan to 100-1 at Tea on Day 2.

A lead of 58 runs, 9 wickets in hand, and a fantastic chance to pile on the pressure on South Africa and bat them out of the game.

The stage was set for Pakistan's leading batsmen to capitalize on a brilliant platform set up by Imam and Shan.

Azhar walked out to bat with Imam falling right after tea and Pakistan's score at 101-2. Azhar lasted only 3 deliveries. Pakistan 101-3. Asad walked out and back to the pavilion soon too leaving Pakistan on 134-4.

Their failures, yet again, resulted in Pakistan setting a target of 149. Game over.

Similar failures continued in the second test as Azhar and Asad fell for 2 and 20 respectively in the first innings. When Pakistan batted again, they were facing a deficit of 254 and a likely innings loss. Azhar failed again scoring only 6, and Asad just delayed the inevitable with a meaningless knock of 88.

I say meaningless, because I am amazed at how many irrelevant runs Asad has scored. A century while chasing 500 to win a test, a century when the top order has already piled on 250+, an 88 that takes you no where.

There was a stage when Pakistan were 190-3 with Asad and Babar Azam at the crease. The deficit was 60 odd, Asad was in his 80s and Babar was knocking it well and had raced to 30 odd. That was the time when a batting maestro like Younis or Misbah, or even an Inzi or MoYo, would have grasped the opportunity, scored a big test hundred, and given Pakistan an outside chance of a win with a target of 150+.

What does Asad do? Throw it all away like always!

It is just sad that Azhar and Asad have not been able to become the batsmen that they should have. They will always remain average test batsmen who could not take the next step and evolve into true batting greats.

They have had all the chances in the world. They have had the best grooming possible by sharing a dressing room with Younis and Misbah for 7 years and by batting with them in the middle for 7 years in over 50 tests.

There could not have been a better way to master test batting.

And there could not have been a better time for Azhar and Asad to stand up and be counted among the batting greats of this era.

Unfortunately that will never happen now.

What epic failures these two have been.

Make your pitch on this post...



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