Azhar Ali's leg glance

The retired star and his weird career arc.

Azhar Ali's record is incredible. But probably not in the way you think. It took him a decade to play at home.

I have written a lot about Azhar Ali over the years. And he has always fascinated me.

Someone pointed out that I tweeted this very early on. This was in his second Test. It just felt this was an organised player. Someone who knew what his strengths and weaknesses were. A low ceiling player with a high floor.

But, the incredible thing is that he did end up with a high ceiling 2014 to 2016; he scored over 2000 runs. And in them, he averaged 57. Over three years, that is huge.

via ESPNcricinfo

The top ten in terms of average in those years were Smith, Kohli, Warner, Younis, Kumar, Root, Matthews, Williamson, Kohli and McCullum. That is some list. Azhar Ali feels like a weird guy to land in the middle of all this.

It wasn't always at that level. But even getting there for any period feels like a win for him. His overall average was only 42, but doing that for 97 Tests when you started as a fairly ordinary legspinner is no mean feat.

And since the start of 2010, he has the seventh most runs in Tests, with Kane Williamson on one side, and Cheteshwar Pujara on the other. I mean, that's a decent place on any list.

He did it with pretty limited batting options. I have written about him a few times, but did a deep dive the day he retired and found something cool. His most productive shot in his career was leg glance. Many players have the flick to leg as their most productive.

In fact, Root, Williamson, Kohli and Smith all flick the ball to leg as their primary scoring shot. It's relatively common for right-hand batters. The leg glance is the inside-edge version of the leg glance. I am not saying Azhar edged them all; he could certainly play that shot. But he was the man who played the ball to fine leg, as the greats around him hit in front of square.

Azhar Ali made a huge amount of runs, almost clocked 100 Tests, and did it by nudging to fine leg.

But the thing that kept talking to me was that Azhar Ali played a huge career without ever playing at home. His first 76 Test matches were away or neutral. I know in the end, Pakistan did great in the UAE (and briefly, the UK). And so did Azhar, averaging more than 50 in the neutral Tests, which is ridiculous.

Now it's clear the conditions favoured him, and this number certainly boosted his away average of 34. But to do this in neutral conditions is still outstanding.

When he finally got home, it was for only ten Tests. And he did well there, despite the fact he was probably already on the decline by that stage.

Azhar Ali's record is incredible. The late blooming batter without home fans and home cooking who flirted with the legends with his vicious leg glance.

It's an unlikely story, and it was for over a decade while he made all those runs.