‘Our pride has been hurt’ – Azhar Ali on Australia debacle

The dismal tour of Australia has hurt the “pride of the nation” according to Test captain Azhar Ali. The Tests ended in innings defeats; the T20Is were not any better even though the perception was Pakistan, ranked No. 1 in the format going into the series, would compete better.

“We are a proud cricketing nation and definitely our pride has been hurt,” Azhar said upon the team’s return to Pakistan. “We did prepare to our best of our abilities, we went there with positive intent but unfortunately sometimes results don’t come as per your expectations.”

The team management picked a young bowling attack with two rookies in 16-year old Naseem Shah and 19-year old Musa Khan. They were so excited that they even played Naseem ahead of the experienced Mohammad Abbas. The bowling fortunes didn’t change.

They failed to pick wickets, watched David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne make runs for fun and the pressure they piled on was too much for their batting to take. This amount to their 14th straight loss in Australia, a streak dating back to 1995.

Amidst the gloom, they had some positives too. Babar Azam made a second-innings ton in Brisbane and a quality 97 in Adelaide. Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfraz Ahmed’s replacement, held his own in two innings. Yasir Shah showed signs of improvement as a batsman, scoring a century in the Pink-ball Test, much to the delight of his teammates.

“When you play in Australia and don’t avail your opportunities, it’s never easy to make a comeback,” Azhar said. “The bowling attack was young and couldn’t perform as expected, but still the world is talking about them today. They have pace and with little bit more experience they will be great for Pakistan in the future.”

Pakistan next play Sri Lanka at home. The tour marks the return of Test cricket to the country for the first time since the 2009 terror attacks on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore. The series is important on a number of counts too.

Firstly, Pakistan will be up against a team coached by their former coach – Mickey Arthur. Secondly, the series is part of the Test championship, and Pakistan are yet to open their account. Thirdly, there’s plenty of pride at stake too, with Pakistan wanting to reverse their fortunes from when the two sides last met in a Test series in UAE.

“The next series is against Sri Lanka which is a momentous occasion for all of us, all players will be playing their first test match in Pakistan,” Azhar said. “Sri Lanka is bringing their full strength side and we have to play very good cricket to beat them.

“We will try our best and whatever time we have in between we have to freshen up our minds and look forward to play good cricket and get back on track. It is very important for us and we have to play this series very good.”

Azhar also brushed aside talks of his poor form. In Australia, he managed scores of 39, 5, 9 and 9 in four innings. He has averaged 24.08 over the last two years. He has also suffered knee injuries.

“As far as I am concerned, it’s not that ball is not coming onto my bat or when I am at the crease my footwork is not working,” Azhar said. “Unfortunately it’s not working. I know I need runs whether captain or any other player nobody can play without giving performance.”

“It’s true that after knee injury my form is not the same, but I passed all the fitness test, I do all the sprinting and it’s not the only reason (injury). Lots of players go through surgeries and play and if there’s a fitness issue, the PCB staff do tell it. I realise, I do have to score, I am working hard, I am feeling good in nets unfortunately runs are not coming but I know when runs do come it will be in bulk.”