Thirty year old Azhar Ali was handed Pakistan’s One Day International captaincy in March 2015, after Misbah ul Haq retired from ODIs. This was part of the post 2015 World Cup reshuffle.
Azhar Ali was not part of the World Cup squad and had not played an ODI for 2 years. The decision by the Pakistan Cricket Board to name him Captain did come as a surprise to many. There was much debate and some negativity about the choice.
However 8 months down the line Azhar Ali has proved that he is the right man for the job, a worthy successor to Misbah.
Azhar has handled the pressure and burden on his shoulders with confidence. His batting performances have excelled, he has risen to the challenge.
I suspect the astute Misbah ul Haq was well aware of Azhar’s strength and potential when he gave him his approval for the post of ODI Captain.
Azhar responded very well by putting runs on the board consistently at an improved strike rate. He also elevated himself to opener.
Such was the improvement in Azhar’s performance that he became the quickest Pakistan batsman in history to reach 1000 runs in 50 over ODIs, in only 23 matches.
In ODIs he has now played 27 matches, total runs 1117, with 2 centuries and 7 fifties. Averaging at healthy 46.5. Highest score 102.
The consistency continues in Test matches with 45 matches, 3427 total runs, 9 centuries, 20 fifties. Average 43.3. Highest score 226.
Azhar has the appropriate character and leadership qualities to develop a positive team spirit. This has now been backed up with a continued solid batting performance. In the future Azhar is well placed to also take over the Test captaincy once Misbah wishes to retire.
Azhar Ali didn’t have the best start in charge earlier this year as Pakistan lost the ODI series 3-0 to Bangladesh. However since then Pakistan have beaten Zimbabwe at home (2-0), away (2-1) and defeated Sri Lanka (3-2) away.
The 4 match ODI series against England in UAE will be a tough encounter for Azhar and Pakistan.
Pakistan are number 8 in the ICC ODI rankings, but are number 2 in both the Test and Twenty20 ICC rankings. A series win against England would certainly help improve their ODI position and also assist with qualifying for the 2019 World Cup.
Pakistan ODI squad:
Azhar Ali (captain), Sarfraz Ahmed (vice-captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Muhammad Hafeez, Younus Khan, Rizwan Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Babar Azam, Bilal Asif, Anwar Ali, Aamir Yamin, Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz, Muhammad Irfan, Zafar Gohar and Rahat Ali.