x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Azhar's attitude is good for Pakistan

A number of positives came out of Pakistan's drawn Test series against South Africa, where the team fought back from difficult positions to save both Tests.

A number of positives came out of Pakistan's drawn Test series against South Africa, where the team fought back from difficult positions to save both Tests against the world's second best team at this level. The biggest was their batting.

It was a team performance, with four batsmen averaging more than 50; two young players in Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq, and two old-timers in Younus Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

Azhar, in particular, had a very good series and demonstrated that Pakistan can still produce young batsmen with the temperament, application, combativeness, patience and dedication required to be successful in Tests.

His technique might not be perfect, but Azhar has the right mental tools and a sensible approach to resolving his weaknesses, and that should hold him in good stead.

The only downside was that just one hundred was scored by the Pakistani batsmen in the series: Younus's battling last day effort to save the first Test at Dubai.

The batsmen need to learn the art of scoring big once they have established an innings, and Azhar deserves a maiden 100 more than most, having reached the 90s twice now in his short Test career.

The role of Younus and Misbah in nurturing young batsmen such as Azhar, Asad and Mohammad Hafeez should not be overlooked.

It is no coincidence that Pakistan's better batting displays during this summer's England tour were after Mohammad Yousuf had joined the squad.

Azhar, in particular, spoke glowingly of the coaching and mentoring he had received from Yousuf, both on the pitch and in the nets and dressing room.

The key for a Test batsman is the ability to build an innings; the patience to stay at the crease and possessing a Test match temperament.

Azhar has all those qualities, as does Fawad Alam, a left-handed batsman who scored a gritty 168 in his very first Test against Sri Lanka in 2009.

Umar Akmal is one young batsman who does not but there is no reason why he cannot develop this by learning from Yousuf and Younus.

Young batsmen from Pakistan's abject domestic set-up in particular need to be properly guided in their early years by senior professionals.

This is best illustrated by Umar's example. A once-in-a-generation talent, Umar was discarded during the South African Tests after one rash shot too many.

It is obvious that the burden of carrying the Pakistan batting hopes has taken its toll on Umar.

His stellar performances and Pakistan's decision to axe both Younus and Yousuf earlier this year led to Umar being expected to perform as Pakistan's leading batsman in just his first international season.

It was foolhardy to expect so much from a 20-year-old and because of the expectation, he now appears a different batsman to the exuberant right-hander who played with such style against New Zealand and Australia a year ago.

Pakistan's next assignment is a tour to New Zealand and Umar thrived there in 2009, scoring 379 runs at an average of 63 with one 100 and three 50s. So the ability is undoubtedly there.

The current middle order of Umar, Azhar, Younus and Misbah has a lot to offer.

With Yousuf set to return from his injury, and promising young batsmen such as Fawad Alam and Asad in the wings, perhaps the future of Pakistan batting is not so bleak after all.

With the right sort of encouragement and proper guidance, Azhar, Umar, Asad and Fawad could develop into a formidable middle order for years to come.