The distance from the practice nets to Zayed Stadium’s main pitch in Abu Dhabi is not that far but on a hot, humid day, walking it is quite punishing. I was doing just that, when to my rescue came an unassuming cricketer travelling the same, short journey in a buggy. He told the driver to stop and offered me his seat.
The player in question was Azhar Ali and the fact that there was no one around to see his act of generosity, demonstrates best how he is in reality – soft-spoken, considerate and willing to remain in the background and let his bat do the talking.
Of course, that is all his bat has been doing throughout the second half of this year. Suddenly the likes of commentator Harsha Bogle are tweeting that “Azhar Ali has emerged as the opener of the year”.
Star Sports India referred to him as Pakistan’s “Mr Dependable”, a rare compliment being compared to India’s former batting wall, Rahul Dravid himself.
His 302 n/o with the pink ball against West Indies in Dubai, had even the reserved former Indian captain Mohammad Azharuddin waxing lyrical about him.
On the surface of it, Azhar Ali appears to perform best just after he has been criticised. Or so it would seem to the uninitiated. In England, the UAE and Australia, he seemed to score most when he faced criticism for his One-Day International captaincy.
However, a closer look at the second half of his 2016 stats shows he featured in three of Pakistan’s highest Test partnerships this year, the most prolific being a first wicket stand of 215 with Sami Aslam against the West Indies in Dubai.
Prior to that, playing away from the UAE he shared a second wicket stand of 181 with Sami Aslam in Birmingham, higher than veterans Misbah and Younis Khans’ 175 partnership against the West Indies in Abu Dhabi.
Also read: Azhar Ali steals limelight in day-night Test
Out of 11 Test matches this year, at the time of going to print, Azhar Ali had a Test average of 64.16. A lot has already been said about him being the first Pakistani to score two Test double hundreds in a calendar year and the first Pakistani to score a double hundred in Australia.
In his latest double ton, whether it was Asad Shafiq or Sohail Khan at the other end, he kept an eye on the rain clouds, was persistent with his singles and twos and got there unobtrusively.
His total run scoring for this year means he is now in the esteemed company of international batsmen Jonny Bairstow, Virat Kohli, Joe Root and Alistair Cook.
With Asad Shafiq also seen as a sound player, fans are no longer worried as to who will provide Pakistan’s batting mainstay once captain Misbah-u- Haq and Younis Khan retire.
One word to describe Azhar Ali’s ascent from his initial low scores in England, to a ton there, a triple ton in Dubai and now a double ton in Australia no less, would be ‘tough’. Resilient would be another.