|Azhar Ali as portrayed by Pakpassion.net|
Last summer, when the apocalypse had come down upon the Pakistan cricket team, torn another three of my favourite players into the abyss and completely eradicated my fragile, re-awoken interest just a few months after the Yousuf-Younis-Gate catastrophe, I entirely gave up on the struggle to find any positives in the team, anything that could re-spark my freak love for this bunch of cheats, nepotists, mullahs, ball-tamperers, mutineers, matchfixers, telephone-bridegrooms, blackmailers, drug-addicts and obvious inbreds. Pakistan had to revamp large parts of their team, players were picked who I had never heard of, and so I only followed the Pak-Eng series with half an eye.
But these 25% of my eyesight sufficed to suddenly pick up a distinctive silhouette: chubby, round-faced, and bowling legspin! PING PING PING three key stimuli were attacking my brain simultaneously, the red alarm lights started flashing and the bells went off! Pakistan have a pokeable young legspinner??? Obviously I had stepped into a pretty common trap here...
I found out that the guy's name was Azhar Ali, he did indeed start out as a legspinner, but matured into a specialist batsman and actually got picked to bat in the top order. And boy he has done a great job so far. Azhar is like one rare gem in the usual Pakistani slog sauce, among all these failed top and middle order experiments of the last year; he would rather stand in the heat for 10 hours to scrape 30 runs together than whack a six and go out dumbly (which he hasn't done so far in his entire Test career... hit a six, that is ;))*, while on the other hand he isn't a permasleeper, combines guts and patience, rotates the strike nicely and takes what's on offer. Together with late bloomer / comeback kid Mo Hafeez and Taufeeq Umar he has quietly heralded that new period of top order solidity Pakistan were craving so much, and one should hope that Pak persist with these three guys and they don't turn up fishy again like the latest herald of a new era, Salman Butt.
With the experienced, elegant Younis and the capable interim skipper Misbah to follow at 4 and 5 Pakistan have at least temporarily sorted out their batting woes on the first five positions. Young Asad Shafiq looks like one big fat talent, Adnan Akmal isn't a world beater with the bat but his excellent glovework makes up for his batting deficits; the 30 or 40 runs he can't contribute are compensated by his keeping twice and thrice. The tail knows which way to hold a bat, and from here Pak should aim at regular 300-350+ scores. Their bowling is potent enough to keep the opposition under pressure, despite the absence of Aamer and Asif.
Let us hope that THIS time Pakistan have made everything right.
*Edit, he has hit a six now! Thanks Zeeshi for pointing it out!