There have been several notable performances over the past seven days in international cricket, meaning that, once again, it is a difficult decision to choose this week’s Cricket World Player of the Week.
Spin has continued to rule the roost on the bowling front with England’s inability to play it and Pakistan’s excellence at bowling it, along with the helpful conditions in Dubai, all contributing to provide three contenders for the award. For England, Monty Panesar completed five-wicket hauls in consecutive matches when he finished with figures of five for 124 in Pakistan’s second innings; while last week’s winner Abdur Rehman (match figures of seven for 137) and Saeed Ajmal (seven for 126) continued to do Pakistan proud.
On the batting front, Matthew Wade kick-started his Twenty20 career with an innings of 72 against India on Wednesday, before recording the sixth highest score by an Australian on ODI debut – and highest by a wicket-keeper – in the opening CB Series match, courtesy of his 69-ball 67.
However, it is from events in Dubai that this week’s award winner again comes. Both Younis Khan and Azhar Ali hit centuries in Pakistan’s second innings total of 365, with Azhar taking the honours – partly thanks to the nature of Younis’ dismissal in the first innings.
Azhar’s innings was a demonstration to England’s batsmen of how patience and a solid technique against spin can reap rewards in even the most challenging conditions. His marathon innings of 157 from 442 balls contributed to a match-winning third wicket stand of 216 with Younis that spanned over 80 overs.
The 26 year-old first began to flourish when asked to open for his department, Khan Research Laboratories, in Pakistan’s 2006-07 Pentangular Cup competition, during which he averaged 80 over the course of the four matches. He enjoyed another good first-class season in 2007-08 and a solid one in 2008-09 which resulted in him earning an A-team call-up for the tour of Australia. While there he made a couple of dour half-centuries against a potent home attack, and did enough to earn himself a place in Pakistan’s starting eleven for their tour of England a year later, making his debut against Australia at Lord’s and benefiting from the PCB’s falling out with Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan.
Since then, the Lahore-born right-hander has become a fixture at number three for Pakistan and has epitomised new captain Misbah-ul-Haq’s cautious, but ultimately very successful, approach more than anyone. The match in Dubai was his 21st in Tests for Pakistan, during which he has managed a return of 1511 runs at an average of 43.17.
Along with the likes of Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq, Azhar is likely to be a fixture in Pakistan’s team for some time to come, and will become an even more important figure in their middle-order as and when Misbah and Younis hang up their boots in the not too distant future.
© Cricket World 2012