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'We're close but not there yet' - Azhar Ali on finding the right team composition
Pakistan News

'We're close but not there yet' - Azhar Ali on finding the right team composition

Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali has conceded there are some inadequacies in Pakistan's batting line-up but was overall pleased with his team's fighting approach in the three-Test series against England.

Doubts persist over the No. 6 and No. 7 spots in the batting order with the management entrusting middle-order duties to a different set of players in each game.

Pakistan went with the unusual strategy of two spinners during the series opener at Old Trafford with Shadab Khan and Yasir Shah. Shadab, 21, showed promise with the bat but was under-bowled as the tourists faced an agonising three-wicket defeat.

Azhar recognised the importance of clogging the ruptures in the team combination with the inclusion of an able pace-bowling all-rounder.

Although Faheem Ashraf, who last represented Pakistan in a Test match during the South Africa tour in January 2019, was present in the squad, his services were not availed by the think-tank.

"The balance in the middle-order [in these conditions] is primarily created by a pace-bowling all-rounder," Azhar said in a virtual media interaction.

"We have that in the form of Faheem Ashraf who is working hard to establish his credentials as a Test player. The encouraging sign for us is how maturely Mohammad Rizwan batted throughout the series. He was man of the series here, so congratulations to him, the wonderful way he kept wickets and batted [was great]."

Shadab made 45 in the first innings for Pakistan in Manchester as he was involved in a crucial 105-run stand with centurion Shan Masood.

Despite his useful contribution, he was dropped for the remaining Tests allowing Fawad Alam a chance to make a comeback to the team after nearly 11 years. Fawad's three innings in the series fetched 21 runs, though he might still be retained for Pakistan's next assignment considering Asad Shafiq's woeful form.

"Shadab performed well in the first match and it was a tough decision to leave him out for the next match but we had to do it considering the conditions and the team's requirements.

"We are close [to finding the right balance in the middle-order], but we are not there yet," Azhar admitted.

"Rizwan's brilliant batting has given us a lot of hope and boosts our confidence since we can play him at No. 6 as a wicketkeeper while also having full faith in his abilities as a pure batsman. Shadab has proved that he is good enough to bat at No. 7 but we have to find someone to fill the No. 8 slot."

In his assessment of Pakistan's fortunes on the Test leg of the England tour, Azhar voiced deep regret at the missed opportunity of claiming an early lead in the series.

England were 117-5 chasing a target of 277 before a breathtaking partnership between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes rendered them winless in the fateful encounter.

"There is great regret [at losing the first Test] but congratulations to England," Azhar said.

"There were lots of positives in our team, we played competitive cricket throughout the series. There is room for improvement but as a team, I am proud of how we fought."

Apart from the flashes of excellence from Pakistan's pace trio and Mohammad Rizwan's resilient knocks, Azhar himself also experienced a ravishing return to form.

The top-order batsman had been under severe pressure with a string of mediocre scores hunting him but he buried the demons of the past to launch a tremendous fightback in the final Test. Azhar made 141 not out as he singlehandedly resisted the England bowlers' charge.