KARACHI: Azhar Ali admits standing in for Misbah-ul-Haq is a tough ask. But he’s confident he can rise to the challenge.
With Pakistan looking to level the series 1-1 against hosts New Zealand in the second and final Test which begins in Hamilton on Friday, Azhar is keen to lift the spirits of the side as he deputises for Misbah, Pakistan’s long-serving Test skipper who will miss a game for only the second time in six years.
“It certainly is a massive blow given he [Misbah] and Younis Khan have been our mainstays for such a long time,” Pakistan’s One-day International (ODI) captain Azhar said while speaking exclusively to Dawn from Hamilton on Wednesday.
Misbah was banned for one match due to slow over rate in the first Test at Christchurch. He was going to miss the Hamilton Test anyways as he had to return to Pakistan to attend the funeral of his father-in-law.
“I have very big boots to fill as Misbah is an inspirational captain but this is my first Test as skipper and I want to make it memorable for myself and the country,” Azhar added.
“I have full belief in our players that we will rise to the occasion and win the Test so that we draw the series and go to Australia [for the next series] with our morale high.
“The Australians are wounded [following a series loss to South Africa] and will come hard at us so a victory here will augur well for us.
“We have shown that we have the potential to come back strongly … just as we did in the England series [in July-August] where we came back from losing back-to-back Tests to draw the series 2-2.”
The loss in the first Test was attributed to lack of practice as the visitors’ only practice match was washed out.
It was a second straight defeat for Misbah’s charges following their defeat to the West Indies in the third and final Test in the UAE earlier this month.
But Azhar said that the team has discounted the loss against the West Indies while preparing for the final Test and have only focused on what went wrong in the loss at Christchurch.
“We’ve all gone back to the drawing board to assess our mistakes so we can come up with a better game plan. If you look at the first match, the batsmen survived well in second innings as we planned not to play expansive drives but we didn’t plan to counter the tidy bowling,” he said.
“One has to give credit to New Zealand for their disciplined bowling during long periods. They were patient and wanted us to commit mistakes. Apart from the team plan, we all have made individual plans to counter the Kiwis and people will see the difference this time around.”
In Misbah’s absence, Pakistan will be required to fit someone in the middle order.
Azhar was coy when asked if he would bring himself down to number three and play Sharjeel Khan or open the innings and draft in Mohammad Rizwan or Mohammad Nawaz.
“This will only be revealed on Friday … but there won’t be many changes to the side,” he said. “We have been doing well lately because we haven’t made too many changes to the team and we would try not to disturb the combination too much.”
There have been suggestions from critics and former cricketers that Pakistan should go with a four-man pace attack instead of carrying team’s ace spinner Yasir Shah.
Yasir was irrelevant in the first Test given the nature of the pitch which was helping the pacers but Azhar feels that the leg-spinner could still play an important role.
“Yasir is a key member of our Test side,” Azhar said. “In Christchurch, the first day was washed out while the match didn’t go the full length. Had that not been the case, Yasir would’ve come into play.
“We’ll look at the pitch and then a final call will be made but Yasir still remains our match-winner even in these conditions. The weather in Hamilton would be comparatively hotter and the heat will help Yasir in the latter part of the match.”