Mickey Arthur on Azhar Ali: ‘Over the last one year he has been the cornerstone of our batting’ © Getty Images
Pakistan’s batting may have lost them the series at the MCG but it has also been the one suit in which they have competed hardest with Australia. Twice they have gone past 400; the previous time they had crossed 400 in Australia, was 33 years ago when they also did it two innings in a row. The only problem of course has been the 142 and 163 that have bookended these two scores.
Nevertheless they will look to their batting once again to salvage what they can from this dead rubber Test at the SCG. That begun disastrously on the second afternoon as they lost two wickets in their innings’ fourth over, before Azhar Ali and Younis Khan – not for the first time – began the repair work with a stand so far of 120.
Azhar in particular appeared in pristine touch, continuing from where he left of at the MCG. He was on 58 at the close, bringing his tally since the start of last year to 1256 runs at an average of 66.10. He is just 18 runs short of 400 runs for the series.
“He has been fantastic,” said Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur. “Over the last one year he has been the cornerstone of our batting. Just to see him come out with the intent as he did today is amazing.
“The amount of time he has spent on field actually on this tour… we were just talking about it in the dressing room, it is almost beyond belief. For him to keep going, keep going and keep going shows a lot of resilience and shows a lot of toughness of mind.”
Pakistan are still over 400 runs behind Australia, however, so for now, any targets as to how to move the Test ahead must be pragmatic ones. The ball is now over 40 overs old and the slowness of the surface might feel familiar.
“I said earlier to the guys that you can never judge a pitch until the both sides have batted on it,” Arthur said. “At 2 for 6 we were in some serious trouble but to see the resilience and character and intent that has been shown by Younis and Azhar – it has been a real example to the rest of the dressing room and that is how we need to play.
“Now we would like to play an attacking brand of cricket and I make no secret of that. Australia have bowled really well this series and kept us under check. We would like our rates to get bigger and to score a little bit quicker but I certainly think again that the resilience shown by these two has been brilliant and hopefully the other guys will take a leaf out of this book, particularly [in terms of] intent. We will carry on with the same intent and see where it takes us tomorrow.”
Pakistan made two changes to their XI in the Test, including a significant one in replacing Sami Aslam with Sharjeel Khan. Aslam was one of three players – along with Sohail Khan and Mohammad Asghar – who flew back to Pakistan today as they are not part of the ODI squad.
Pakistan have flirted with the idea of opening with Sharjeel since the beginning of the series against West Indies in the UAE, but have banked on giving Aslam a long run at the top. Aslam paid the price for dwindling returns of 22, 15, 9 and 2, as well as an inability to inject any sense of urgency in Pakistan’s starts, which is why Sharjeel was given a chance. But Arthur was adamant this was only a momentary setback in Aslam’s career.
“Sami has got a very big future for us,” he said. “He is technically very good. Over the last four months he has developed significantly. Since the third Test in England he has developed significantly and has come off really well.
“We just thought we had to change it up somehow. We had to try to do something. We let Sharjeel loose. It was a 50-50 chance. If Sharjeel came off, played really well, we get the momentum up front much like David Warner gives Australia and hopefully he set a tone for us. So that was the idea behind it. Sami Aslam is certainly not out of the picture and I think he has a bright future as an opening batsman for Pakistan.”
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo