Azhar Ali – An underrated Test match career

Azhar finished with 7142 runs under his belt, the fifth highest run scorer for Pakistan, averaging 42.26

Azhar Ali – An underrated Test match career PHOTO: AFP

On Monday, Azhar Ali walked out for his last test innings, and although it wasn’t the ending any player wants, it was the ending of an amazing, yet undervalued test career. Azhar Ali played a pivotal role in getting Pakistan to the number one test position back in 2016, but his efforts seem to be anything but appreciated.

Departing the field for the last time in test matches, Azhar finished with 7142 runs under his belt, the fifth highest run scorer for Pakistan, averaging 42.26. He ended his career with 19 centuries, 54 half-centuries, and a highest score of 302*.

Career timeline

Debuting in 2010, Azhar Ali played crucial knocks against Australia and England to showcase his talent. His ability to get behind the line of the ball and play with a straight bat, paired with calm nature indicated that he could play against strong teams and be successful. His first 24 matches were evidence of this, as Azhar went on to score 4 centuries and 13 half-centuries, averaging 45.28. 

There was a decline in his form in 2013, when he averaged a mere 19.29, however, this was met with perhaps his most crucial century against Sri Lanka. Needing 302 to win in 59 overs, Azhar scored a quicker-than-usual 103 to seal the win and draw the series.

Azhar had a brilliant time with the bat between 2014 and 2017 – adding over 3000 runs to his name, including 10 centuries and 12 half-centuries against the likes of Australia and England. It was during this time he scored his highest score against West Indies. Azhar become the first Pakistani batsmen to score 200+ scores in 2016, as well as the first Pakistani batsmen to score a double century in Australia.
With the retirement of Misbah and Younis Khan in 2017, there were massive shoes to fill. Having that solid middle order around him, Azhar was able to perform phenomenally, however, the next two years he averaged just 27 in 15 matches. In 2019, he was given the responsibility to captain the side, but only did so for 8 matches.

After stepping down from captaincy, the weight of pressure was lifted of Azhar’s shoulders, and he was back to scoring runs. In 2020, he scored a slow but effective 141* against England to secure a draw. In 2021 a 93 against New Zealand and 126 against Zimbabwe. In 2022, he scored another ton and half-century against Australia, bringing his tally up to 4 and 6 respectively against that opposition.

Breakdown of career

In 58 test matches played away from home, Azhar Ali has scored over 3700 runs, and although an average of 36.77 is far from his prime time, he has scored 10 of his 19 hundreds away.

Whilst his away record seems remarkable, he was extraordinary at home too. During his time playing on UAE soil, Azhar Ali played 27 matches, scoring over 2500 runs, averaging a sublime 53.97.

Against Australia, he had an astounding record, which says a lot about him as a batsmen. Where Pakistani batsmen fumble slightly, Azhar soared. In his 14 matches against the Aussies, Azhar has scored 1300 runs – the third most for Pakistani batsmen against this opposition – with an average of 52.

In terms of runs scored and centuries made, Azhar Ali sits at number 5 for Pakistan for both these records. However, when it comes to averages, he drops down below 10, leaving him open to criticism. Nevertheless, his average should not take away from his efforts at the all-important number three position, where he was the solid ground for Pakistan over the years. At this position, Azhar Ali has scored 5342 runs, more than some of the modern greats today, like Joe Root and Steve Smith.

Throughout his career, Azhar has been a solid batsmen for Pakistan, and in the Misbah era, he had a lot to show for it. However, after the retirement of the magnificent MisYou, Azhar was expected to step up and fill the massive gaps, which were unreasonable and unrealistic. With Pakistan having to rejig their test team around, and find new batting combinations through trial and error, it was no wonder Azhar’s form dipped slightly since 2017. However, overall, in his career-span of 12 years, he managed to achieve great things, against great opponents, in some of the hardest situations, and for that, he should be given credit and be appreciated for his service to Pakistan.