by: Khurshid Alam:
It was the mid-1990s, we were living in Model Town Extension Lahore and like many people, we used to go for walks in the beautiful park track of Model Town. There used to be a gentleman who was more than 50 years old jogging. At one time, he would circle the track at full speed so much that the onlookers would be surprised. His chubby son would fall and stagger back and forth.
Later it came to know that this is Professor Mohammad Rafiq who lives in S Block near us and is a very competent science teacher at Government College Kotha Pind. He was very popular because of his honesty and integrity. He was teaching in the same college for a long time. And he spent the last 6 years of service in Murree. But did not beg to return.
After jogging, in the afternoon, he would sit his son on a bicycle and reach the cricket ground. At first, he used to bring the child to Sultan F Hussain Sahib, Azmat Puri and Naushad Bhai’s Club Cricket Centre. Then after feeding Shoaib Dar at Model Town Greens, he took his son to Nawab Mansoor Hayat’s famous club Model Town Club, where despite being “under age”, Mansoor Hayat liked this child very much. The child used to do leg spins. He started getting opportunities against big players in the club matches. I had to go to the club once. So Nawab Mansoor introduced me to this boy and said this is Azhar Ali. Will he play Tests at the age of 16-17, God willing? I was very surprised to hear them. After that, Azhar is still playing for the same club.
Apart from jogging, Rafiq Sahib’s other hobby was cricket. He himself could not play much cricket because of the service club…but he wanted his sons to play good cricket. Cricket was also in the blood of his five sons. Eldest sons Akbar, Asghar and Ashraf Ali were very good players but because their father was an honest person, so there was no financial comfort. The house was also rented, so along with cricket, the boys got their education through tuition and doing odd jobs. Completed. With everyone’s hard work,
the situation improved, but the dream of becoming a great cricketer remained unfulfilled. In this way, Rafiq Sahib focused all his attention on his younger son Azhar and joined him in the national team. He began to dream. He was not even admitted to the school to give more time to cricket. He started teaching him at home himself and had to sacrifice his education due to being completely “innovated” in cricket. And Azhar could not even pass the matriculation exam.
Yes, Azhar Ali soon gained fame as a leg-spinner in cricket. After being selected for the second U-15 World Cup camp, his participation in the final team was doubtful despite his excellent performance in the trial matches. In such a situation, the coaches of the camp Akhtar Mumtaz Butt, Saud Khan and Afzal Butt included his name in the team after a regular quarrel. There he showed excellent performance and the Pakistan team reached the final.
After that, he participated in trophy matches on behalf of LCC. In the off-season, a camp for Pakistan’s budding players was organized by the PCB at Country Club Mureed in which Azhar was also included. Bowling action changed. The result of this was that he did not have confidence in his bowling before…despite his efforts, he could not get his previous form.
However, the director of the National Academy at that time, Aamir Sohail, also tried to help him. And KRL, which is a nursery in cricket, also gave him a job. And playing matches too, but his bowling confidence could not return on the KRL pitch. As he was also very fond of batting, he used to take full advantage of it whenever he got a chance to bat And the bowlers would have been killed in the last numbers. In this way, he started to be considered a bit better, the then captain of KRL Muhammad Wasim also gave him the opportunity to open in some matches. Then Misbah-ul-Haq also encouraged him. But LCCA people were not ready to accept.
So Abbottabad region invited them to play ODI tournament on their side which proved to be a breath of fresh air. The first match was in Diamond Ground Islamabad. Incidentally, I was the referee in that match. While opening, Azhar scored a century. Abbottabad’s captain, all-rounder Sajid Shah, who accompanied him, also scored 100. After that, his streak of success as a batsman continued.
There was no looking back after KRL scored 3 centuries on tough pitches in the Pentangular Cup in Karachi. . Bowling was left somewhere behind. Due to tireless work and continued good performance and accumulation of runs, he became a part of the Pakistan team and thus fulfilled his father’s dream.
Started his career as a bowler. But as a top-order batsman in the Pakistan team, he performed such feats that surprised the world. . He played 97 Test matches in his brilliant career and scored more than 7000 runs with the help of 19 centuries… Scored 2 double centuries and 1 triple century (302) in every country. Captain too, what can be a great career than that?
In his last innings, unfortunately, he got out for zero in his last innings, but despite this, his name will always live as a great servant of Pakistan cricket. A little mention is made of his personal life. Together they don’t feel like they are meeting such a successful person. In 2019, when I was the manager of Central Punjab, I was very impressed by his morals and discipline.
Azhar got married at the age of 22 and has 3 sons. The elder son (who is equal to him in height) and the second son are learning cricket at Azhar Ali Cricket Academy. He founded Azhar Ali Academy in his area of Valencia a few years ago, in which he and his brothers Akbar and Ashraf are training children.
Azhar’s mother was a very simple woman who did not know anything about cricket but she kept praying for her son’s success.. She had a very loving relationship with my late mother-in-law. He died 2 years ago.
Rafiq Sahib’s series of sacrifices does not end here. When Azhar’s house was being built in Valencia, he used to go to Valencia by jogging from Model Town and built the whole house under his supervision.