Azhar Ali is one of the top five run-getters in Test Cricket for Pakistan. But he remained underrated for most of his career or probably throughout it.
On Monday, he walked on the field to bat for the final time hoping to make his farewell innings memorable, but he trudged back for a four-ball-duck to receive a guard of honour from his teammates.
The veteran batter had announced before the commencement of Karachi Test that this will be his last international outing for Pakistan. He made a graceful exit from the game and will be remembered as one of the finest cricketers produced by this country — who didn’t get enough praise for what he has achieved.
The 37-year-old spoke to Geo News exclusively after his final inning, underlining the ups and downs of his career, achievements and regrets, as well as the life post-retirement.
“Ups and downs are part of everyone’s career. There were moments I cherish. There were moments I regret. There were disappointments and celebrations. But when I look back, I can’t ask for anything better in my life, it is an honour to play for Pakistan and represent the country in 97 Test matches, which is a big achievement.”
The star batter added: “I started my cricket as a leg spinner, but I later transformed into a proper batter. Throughout my career, I had to prove myself to others which also motivated me to work harder every time.”
When asked if there is anything he wanted to achieve or anything that made him most disappointed in his career, the stylish batter recalled Pakistan’s Test against New Zealand at Abu Dhabi which the country lost.
“There was one wish… to play 100 Tests. But it was not possible this season and that is certainly not a big thing. However, I regret not being able to finish that Test in Abu Dhabi against New Zealand which we lost. Whenever I think of that match, it frustrates me. I wish I could have finished it by hitting a sixer but then I decided otherwise, this one match I regret.”
Azhar has scored 19 centuries including a triple hundred with the pink ball and a double hundred in Australia, but his favorite was unbeaten 141 against England at Southampton in 2020.
“Triple ton or double hundred is number-wise a good achievement, but a player knows deep inside about the moment he felt the best and for me that 141 against England’s quality bowling was my best innings. Because at that time, I was struggling mentally and technically, so those were one satisfactory innings for me,” Azhar recalled.
He recalled his initial days with Pakistan when the team was under added scanner due to spot-fixing controversy of 2010 and mentioned the challenges he faced as a young cricketer.
“We were restricted and remained under strict curfew from team management. We didn’t have the freedom that other teams had which was very upsetting, but we endured it all as our aim was to win fans’ confidence once again. Those two-three years were very difficult, but it united us as a team,” he mentioned.
Azhar played initial 70 Tests away from home and got to play his first Test at home soil after a wait of nine years since his debut. He agreed that there was a time when he had no hopes of playing a Test in Pakistan, but praised the PCB and security agencies who worked hard to bring cricket home.
“I think it is exciting to see cricket back in Pakistani stadiums. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my last match if it was at any other venue,” he said.
Azhar, however, was out for a duck in his last match.
“I wanted to make it memorable by performing big, but getting out on a duck is part and parcel of cricket. It can happen to anyone at any time. Unfortunately, for me, it was my last innings,” Azhar added.
Replying to a question, the batter agreed that he felt being underrated but refrained from expressing his thoughts. He, however, said that Pakistani players are criticised more when they are out of form as compared to their counterparts from other countries.
He said that colleagues like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq have always guided him.
“I mostly kept friends who would highlight my mistakes and criticise me when I am wrong, instead of those who would only praise me,” the middle-order batsman said.
Azhar also admitted that he felt that there was still white-ball cricket left in him when he exited from ODIs but he didn’t have any other choice.
“I always believed that whatever selection committee or team management decides, they do it in better interests of team. I have no complains against anyone, but I feel that I had white-ball cricket left in me. However, after seeing I’ve lost my place and am being replaced by others, I decided to quit gracefully,” he said.
Azhar, after scoring 7,142 runs in 97 Tests, still wants to stay connected with cricket and will think about his post-retirement field once he is done with his county assignment.
“Cricket is the only thing that I know, so I will stay connected to the game. I am going for county soon and once I am back, I will think about my post-playing days field,” he concluded.