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England v Pakistan

Azhar Ali’s captaincy under the scanner after shock loss in Manchester

Azhar Ali Pakistan
by Wisden Staff 2-minute read

Azhar Ali, the Pakistan captain, is under the scanner after their shock loss to England in the opening Test of the three-match series in Manchester.

Pakistan had set England a tricky target 277, but despite reducing them to 106-4 – including the key wickets of Joe Root and Ben Stokes – the visitors succumbed to a three-wicket defeat, after Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes put on a 139-run stand.

Azhar’s captaincy has been blamed for that, with accusations that he wasn’t aggressive enough, especially to England’s No.7 Chris Woakes, whose 84* changed the game. Azhar was also considered to have missed a trick in not unleashing Naseem Shah on Woakes, who seemed troubled by the short ball in the first innings.

“Winning and losing is part of cricket, but I think our captain missed a trick quite a few times in this game, as far as his leadership is concerned,” Wasim Akram told Sky Sports after the match. “When Woakes came in, there were no bouncers, no short deliveries, they let him settle down and runs were coming easy.

“Once the partnership got going, nothing happened – the turn didn’t happen, swing didn’t happen – and Buttler and Woakes just took the game away.

“We’re not county bowlers who are just going to come and bowl line and length all day long. We’ve got a 17-year-old [Naseem], who bowls 90mph, a 20-year-old [Shaheen Afridi], who is around 88mph, and they should be bowling a lot more overs – 18-20 overs each innings, no matter the situation.”

Azhar’s form has dipped since he took over captaincy after Sarfaraz Ahmed’s axing in October last year. In six matches, he has passed 50 just once, when he scored 118 against Sri Lanka in Karachi, and has averaged just 26.8, a significant drop from his career average of 42.1.

Azhar was evasive when asked in the post-match press conference whether his batting was affected by captaincy. “After playing international cricket for 10 years, I understand when I need to take certain decisions,” he said.

“When I bat, I’m not thinking about the captaincy, whether or not I’m out of form. And when I’m captain, I don’t think about my batting at all, whether I scored a 100 or 0. That’s the job of the captain.”

However, Ramiz Raja, the former Pakistan captain, said the management – a star cast comprising coach Misbah-ul-Haq, batting coach Younis Khan and bowling coach Waqar Younis – should take some portion of the blame for not helping the side navigate through the tricky final session of the match.

“I would have wanted more out of them in that situation, because they all have gone through such games in their careers,” Raja told Mumbai Mirror. “When you’ve got a captain who is not in great form, the coaching staff has to be more proactive. Also, they get good perspective sitting outside.

“England were allowed to take easy singles, close to 40 singles were taken by Buttler and Woakes through point. No one told Azhar Ali or Yasir Shah to plug that gap. I was frustrated with the field set-up. The bouncer was not tried. The strategy needed a revisit, which didn’t happen unfortunately.”

The second Test will start in Southampton on Thursday.

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