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Golden Debuts : Azhar Mahmood

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GOLDEN DEBUT MATCH : South Africa Vs Pakistan, 1st Test Match at Rawalpindi, 1997-98

A new star appeared on the horizon in the form of all rounder Azhar Mahmood who scored a breath-taking century on his debut in the first cricket Test against South Africa at the Pindi Cricket Stadium in October 1997-98 series. Pakistan went into that first test match of the series fielding three debutantes Ali Naqvi, Mohammad Ramazan and Azhar Mahmood.

Azhar Mahmood

Azhar Mahmood

Pakistan won the toss and chose to bat first. Pakistan’s batting largely revolved around their three key players Saeed Anwar, Ijaz Ahmed and Inzamam-ul-Haq but surprisingly instead of taking the responsibility, it almost looked like this trio might have forgotten playing Test cricket and instead thought they were probably playing a one-day game. Saeed Anwar along with debutante Ali Naqvi opened the innings but Saeed, batting first on a bald and placid strip, tried to drive on the rise a Allan Donald’s delivery and gave a straight forward catch to Dave Richardson. Then Ijaz got deceived in flight by Symcox. Inzamam had a wild go at Brett Schultz’s delivery and Richardson took a blinder behind the stumps. Mohammad Wasim had no choice but to consider himself very unlucky when he was declared caught bat and pad off Pat Symcox.

Considering how the three senior players got out playing reckless and irresponsible shots it was some consolation to see debutante Naqvi dominate the innings as he led the Pakistan innings scoring a test century on debut but unfortunately almost at the end of first day’s play Naqvi too got caught at cover by Gary Kirsten when he mistimed his shot. It was then that all-rounder Azhar Mahmood had a chance to come into the spotlight. Pakistan were not in a very strong position, as they still had to add another 100 runs to place themselves in a safe position. The first day’s play finished with Moin at 8 and Azhar on just 4 fending off Donald at the end in poor light.

Pakistan resumed their first innings an hour after lunch on the 2nd day of the first test at an overnight score of 216 for six after three hours of play were lost because of early morning heavy showers. Pakistan soon ran into trouble in the play before tea break when they lost Moin Khan and Saqlain Mushtaq with the scoreboard reading 231 for eight. That double loss set back Pakistan, but Younis and Mahmood turned the tables with a record ninth wicket 74-run stand. They defied all odds to break the previous record set by Kabir Khan and Inzamam-ul-Haq at the Wanderers in the 1994/95.

Like the first day second day’s proceedings were largely dominated by a debutant. After Ali Naqvi scored a century on his debut, Azhar Mahmood went on playing an exquisite innings to give a solid lesson to his other colleagues. Local boy Mahmood, batted with admirable concentration and dedication to occupy the crease for nine minutes under four hours and in the process hit an elegant, flawless and chanceless unbeaten 72 that included five boundaries and a six off Pat Symcox.

Introduced into the side primarily as a medium pacer, he surprised many by his batting prowess. It seemed to suggest that Pakistan’s conveyer belt of gifted young cricketers had produced another gem. He reached his half-century from 138 balls with two boundaries and hit over the fence. But the scruff of their necks to play brilliant strokes in his 81-ball 45 overshadowed his high-class innings when Waqar Younis held the South African bowlers. Nevertheless, Younis finally got out on an in swinging Yorker. Mushtaq Ahmed joined the solid looking Mahmood then and when stumps were drawn, Mahmood had found a valuable ally in Mushtaq, who was on six, and together they defied the South Africans for 65 minutes as they added 40 for the unbroken 10th wicket. Mehmood was as solid as a rock while taking his score from four not out overnight to 72 not out. Anwar was all smiles after the day’s play. He was impressed with Mahmood whom he thought had a very good eye and who knew which deliveries to play against an attack he rates highly. At the start of third day’s play the home team resumed at 345 for 9.

This was to be the greatest day in the life of the 22 year old debutante turned hero Azhar Mahmood as he reached his century from his 228th ball by gliding a Shaun Pollock delivery to third-man to pick up a couple of runs and together with Mushtaq Ahmad, he equaled the world record of 151 runs for he last wicket established 25 years ago by the New Zealand pair of Brian Hastings (110) and Dick Collinge (68 not out) against Pakistan at Auckland in 1972-73.

Mahmood, whose 128 was interestingly his maiden first-class century in 44th appearance, also became the fifth batsman to reach three figures on debut while batting at No 8 or lower than that position. Azhar batted with great courage and determination, scored a magnificent century and helped Pakistan post a mammoth total of 456 which at one stage had looked well beyond their reach. Compared with Ali Naqvi, Azhar Mahmood’s innings was a more matured and exquisite one. He played shots on merit and found gaps perfectly to keep the scoreboard moving with twos and threes. Mahmood’s 12 minutes under six hours of batting was spiced with 11 boundaries and a six from 267 balls. Undoubtedly this young lad of just 22 hailing from Rawalpindi deserved the century because he was a model of concentration and application.

The fourth day of the test match turned out to be yet another memorable day for Azhar Mahmood, as after scoring a century on debut Mahmood picked up his first Test wicket when he had South African skipper Hansie Cronje caught at point by Ijaz Ahmad. He also got the prized wicket of Shaun Pollock the very next and the last day of the match with South Africa all down on 403.

Just like the first innings, Pakistani batting again crumbled under pressure as they lost no time in getting back to the pavilion leaving Pakistan on 80 for 5.Together with his senior colleague Inzamam, Azhar rescued the Pakistani innings from a late charge by the South Africans as the first cricket Test ended in a draw. Once again it was the dashing Mahmood who walked away with the limelight becoming the first Pakistani to hit a ton and a 50 on Test debut. For such a superb and enthralling performance, he was judged Man Of The Match.

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