Pakistan witnesses the rise of young blood
Pakistan may have lost the recently concluded ODI series against Sri Lanka but there was a huge positive that came out of the series. They saw a ray of hope amidst a crumbling batting order. A stoic personality who stood his ground and made sure that the visitors achieved a great deal of respectability. Yes, it was Azhar Ali who impressed the cricketing fraternity with a brave batting display ending up as the highest run-getter with 217 runs from 5 matches. Since his entry into the international arena in July 2010, this youngster has grown leaps and bounds.
Being drafted into the side following the exclusions of Mohammad Yusuf and Younus Khan in the Test series against Australia in 2010, he had a huge responsibility on his shoulders to emulate the stalwarts and come up with the goods. Ali made sure that the selectors weren’t disappointed scoring a half-century in just his second Test, powering Pakistan to their first Test victory over Australia in 15 years, at Headingley.
Since then, he has never looked back and has become an integral part of the Pakistani batting line-up. Patience personified, his greatest strength is his temperament. His ability to structure the innings along with developing crucial partnerships makes him a different player altogether in the league of upcoming youngsters who are naturally flamboyant. In his 21 Tests so far, he has scored 13 half-centuries and two centuries at an average of 43.17 which is a spectacular effort. He has been Pakistan’s most prolific Test batsman in the past year and a half, having amassed 983 runs from 13 matches. His magnificent innings of 157 in the third Test against England in Dubai was a perfect example of the determination and patience one must possess in order to become a top level Test player. Primarily considered Test match material, he has shown great adaptability and performed splendidly in the ODIs too.
Another Pakistani youngster who has impressed big time is the extremely talented middle-order batsman, Asad Shafiq. A youngster who started off his Test career in blistering fashion with a half-century on debut against South Africa in Abu Dhabi. Solid technique coupled with a wide array of strokes make him one of most attractive players to watch. He hogged the limelight in the recently concluded Test series against England where he played some crucial knocks to ensure Pakistan clean swept the No.1 side 3-0.
In the second Test at Abu Dhabi, he stitched a 100-run partnership with skipper Misbah-ul-Haq to help his team achieve 257 after they were struggling at 103/4 in the first innings. But his best was yet to come in the second. Following a deficit of 70 runs, Pakistan were reduced to 54/4 and this was when the world witnessed the real power of the two gifted Pakistani youngsters. Ali and Shafiq breathed life into the match with a solid 88-run stand for the fifth wicket to help post a target of 145 which seemed utterly improbable at one point of time. Pakistan consequently went on to win the match by a comprehensive margin of 48 points on the Castrol Index. Shafiq averages 37.47 from 13 matches, which is good enough for a rookie. He has the technique and strokes in his armoury; the only thing he needs to improve upon is temperament.
After Mohammad Yusuf’s retirement and Shoaib Malik’s ouster, these two youngsters have done exceptionally well to ensure that a huge void in the middle order has been successfully filled. The duo has brought together a deadly combination of patience and aggression.
With the Sri Lankan tour moving into the final stage, both teams will lock horns in a three-match Test series. It seems as though the hosts have revived their lost confidence and it will be difficult for Pakistan to defeat them in their own backyard. Their chances of winning will heavily depend on the duo of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. But going by the amount of talent at their disposal and recent exploits, these two prodigies will surely pass out with flying colours. Yes, Pakistan cricket’s future seems secure!