As one international career comes to an end in Karachi, another dawns, with Pakistan’s Azhar Ali announcing the series finale will be his final appearance, if selected, and England confirming a much-anticipated debut for 18-year-old Rehan Ahmed.
Ahmed first, one of two changes to the England side that took an unassailable 2-0 lead in Multan. Leicestershire’s leg-spinning all-rounder was named as a straight swap for Will Jacks, while Ollie Pope has been relieved of the gloves to focus on his batting, Ben Foakes returning and Jimmy Anderson told to rest his 40-year-old legs.
In becoming cap number 710, Ahmed also takes the record as England’s youngest men’s Test cricketer in history. Brian Close was 18 years and 149 days when he first played against New Zealand at Old Trafford in 1949 while Ahmed, three first-class matches to date, will be 23 days his junior when the third Test starts on Saturday.
Announcing his final team of the year 24 hours out from the toss, Ben Stokes said: “I think it’s a good opportunity for us to not only look at Rehan but for him to come in and experience what it’s like to play international cricket.
“He’s got a lot of skill with both bat and ball, so it’s great to be able to bring someone with the talent and the excitement that he has and see what he’s got this week.”
“I think being at such a young age, it’s great to see someone who has so much freedom in what they do and the way that he bats. He’s got a vast array of shots. And obviously a wrist-spinner is great to be able to have in your team, especially in these conditions.”
On Anderson’s omission, his first tour of Pakistan having returned eight wickets at 18 runs apiece and central to England’s series win, Stokes explained it was simply a case of ensuring he would be ready for the challenges in the new year. England play a two-match series in New Zealand in February ahead of their Ashes summer.
Moments earlier at the National Stadium in Karachi, an emotional Azhar had cited Anderson as the toughest opponent of a decorated international career that comes to a conclusion this week. The 37-year-old will plough on with Worcestershire in county cricket but, if chosen, this will be his 97th and final Test cap for Pakistan.
Either way, Azhar will finish as the country’s fifth highest run-scorer in Test history, having compiled 7,097 at an average of 42 with 19 centuries. The right-hander’s career spanned a significant time in Pakistan cricket, the first 75 caps since his debut against Australia at Lord’s in 2010 won on the road as teams declined to tour the country.
Azhar was a pillar of the side that rose to No 1 in the world rankings who also went on to captain 40 times in Test and one-day international cricket. His match-winning 118 against Sri Lanka in Karachi in 2019 was also a moment in Pakistan’s history, being their first Test century back on home soil for 10 years.
He said: “I retire from international cricket as a fulfilled cricketer who ticked most of the goals he had set for himself. Not many cricketers go on to lead their countries, and that I was able to captain Pakistan is a matter of great pride for me.
“From being a kid who started as a leg-spinner to becoming a mainstay in the Test batting lineup, I had the loveliest moments of my life that I will cherish forever.”