Tuesday, October 18th, 2022


Azhar Ali is optimistic about what the future holds for Worcestershire and is looking forward to being part of “a club that is growing” when he returns for the 2023 season.

The Pakistan star made a big impression on the pitch with the bat but equally as importantly with his influence on the flourishing young talent at New Road.

Azhar has been popular with staff, the squad and spectators, and one of the iconic images of the summer was him posing for photographs and signing autographs as soon as he came off the pitch after his double century against Leicestershire.

He is optimistic about challenging for promotion in the LV=Insurance County Championship and other silverware next summer and says the players will become more clinical as they gain more experience in pressing home the advantage in match-winning positions.

Azhar has also reiterated his belief that Jack Haynes will go on to play for England and that the time is approaching when Dillon Pennington will step forward to become the leader of the attack.

But this winter, he aims to complete one personal goal of his own in 100 Tests for Pakistan before he heads back to Worcestershire in the spring.

Here Azhar looks back over the summer and forwards to 2023.

Question: How much have you enjoyed this season?

Azhar Ali: “Very much. I had heard about the club from a few overseas players who had played for Worcestershire, and they loved it as well.

“It wasn’t a surprise, but I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”

Question: You seemed to fit in very well with all of the players and staff?

Azhar Ali: “It has been brilliant. The good thing about the club is all the players, and the staff were really nice, very welcoming.

“But an equally good thing is that they are hard-working, want to learn and also enjoy their time when they play.

“I absolutely enjoyed the company of the players. It was fantastic.”

Question: You clearly wanted to extend your time here by signing a new contract for next season?

Azhar Ali: “Not only the players, but as a club, I feel we, Worcestershire, are growing. I want to be part of that journey, and hopefully, I can contribute to that.

“I want to see the club keep growing and get better and better, and the team also. Hopefully next year, we can keep making those steps in the right direction. 

“I’m looking forward to re-joining the club again next year, and hopefully, we can get promotion and silverware in other tournaments for the fans.”

Question: Have you been encouraged by the progress in red ball cricket?

Azhar Ali: “I feel that we couldn’t quite capitalise on some moments during the season; otherwise, we would have been in with a chance of winning Division Two.

“We were close to 200 points and should have won a couple more games had we been more clinical. Also, had the weather been in our favour a couple of times, it might have been different. We played a lot of good cricket this season.”

Question: Does being more clinical come with that additional experience?

Azhar Ali: “That always comes with time. That is another good sign for the club that many players are very young, in their early 20s but still making a good impact for the club and are very talented and hard-working.

“That is heartening to see and, hopefully, in a couple of years, they are going to be more experienced, and they will be more clinical definitely with bat and ball.”

Question: You have batted a lot with Jack Haynes this year, can he kick on with his career?

Azhar Ali: “I feel that is the case because I have seen him and his potential. He is mentally tough as well, which is required for a batter.

“You will see a lot of ups and downs in your career, but you need to be mentally tough to get through those hard times sometimes.

“Also, with the potential he has, he has also the ingredients in his batting that he can build on and then become a very good player, not only for the club but his country as well.”

Question: Kashif Ali made a sizeable contribution in his first season?

Azhar Ali: “He has been a great find for the club. No one expected him to go straight into the first team, but the staff are looking for good players, and when they get them, they work on them, and they are brave enough to give them chances.

“You saw that in the Royal London Cup. It was a tough tournament, but we kept giving youngsters opportunities, and you can learn more about them.

“It is really encouraging, finding young players. In white ball especially, Kashif has done well, and I’m sure he will keep improving and contribute in the red ball game too.”

Question: How impressed were you with Ben Gibbon and Taylor Cornall in their first year of professional cricket?

Azhar Ali: “They have been excellent. Taylor is another good player, also hard-working as well, and in a couple of years’ time, he will definitely be a different player altogether.

“Ben can run in and bowl all day. The captain has to tell him to stop; otherwise, he would bowl a 15-over spell if you gave him a chance!

“He is full of energy, and I can only see him improving because he wants to bowl all of the time. He has good skills as well.

“I’m sure next season he will be a far much better bowler and get a lot more wickets for us.”

Question: Talking of bowlers, it was a year in which Dillon Pennington made big strides forward?

Azhar Ali: “Dillon is much more mature now, and it is almost time for where he starts leading the bowling line-up, and I’m sure he is up for it.

“He has bowled well. It is not easy in the county season to play most of the games, often back-to-back games, but he was fit enough to play all season which was very good to see.

“He is one of our main bowlers, and we expect a lot from him.”

Question: Were you happy with the way you contributed?

Azhar Ali: “As a batter, you always want to score more runs. There is always a disappointment here and there, but, as a batting unit, someone would always stand up in tough conditions.

“Whether it was Jack (Haynes), Brett (D’Oliveira) or Jake (Libby) or Ed (Barnard) or, in the later stages, Gareth (Roderick).

“The innings Gareth played against Nottinghamshire was one of the best of the season, if not the best.

“The one Ed Barnard played at Trent Bridge was also exceptional, Ed Pollock has won games for us and Ben (Cox) contributed as well at times.

“We haven’t been relying on one player. Someone has always stood up, which is good. You are not thinking ‘we are relying on one guy, and if he doesn’t score, we are in trouble.'”

Question: You are back in Pakistan playing, and what does the winter hold for you?

Azhar Ali: “Pakistan have five Tests, three against England and two versus New Zealand, and I have a bit of first-class cricket back home.”

“Until January, I am quite busy, and then I will have a bit of a break and get refreshed for the new season with Worcestershire.”

Question: Is 100 Tests an ambition?

Azhar Ali: “That is one of the things I really want to do, and, god willing, if that comes up, it will be a great achievement for me.

“It will be a huge milestone to achieve.”