Somerset and Surrey were believed to be the two counties the duo are in talks with as they try and replace Matt Renshaw and Virat Kohli respectively, although a Surrey spokesman has since denied that this was the case, Either way, that stint would not have been a long one, though a Somerset deal could potentially be for the summer.
Both are likely to find out within a day or so, and the PCB is actively encouraging their search.
“Our chosen players, we’re hoping to get Azhar and Asad to play some county cricket,” Mickey Arthur, the Pakistan coach, said. “There is a little bit of interest at the moment, for a short period of time. Because those guys don’t go to these [T20] leagues and stuff, if they were to play county cricket we’d certainly encourage that.”
Azhar and Shafiq had mixed returns from Pakistan’s tour of Ireland and England and neither had the kind of tour expected from a senior player. Shafiq made two fifties across three Tests though he did look in form at both Lord’s and Headingley and was removed twice by unplayable deliveries. He also had a big hundred in the warm-up game against Northamptonshire.
Azhar, Pakistan’s most successful Test batsman over the last couple of years, had a poor tour outright, averaging a shade over 12 across the three Tests.
Part of the problem was that neither had played an international match since October last year – and they will now not play another Test till the coming October. An odd year apart, that has been the nature of Pakistan’s Test schedule for a number of years – their home season followed by a long gap before the odd summer tour and another gap till the following winter.
“Yeah that’s always the challenge,” Arthur said. “You sort of don’t know what they go back to. We have player plans for everybody so I’d know where everybody is at any given time.
“But I know Azhar Ali, I know Asad Shafiq, I know their work ethic. Everybody knows the standards they have to meet. When they arrive to the team, they will be there physically, mentally and technically because they have to be. That is the criteria we set for them.
“I’d love to see them do county cricket. It is more time for them playing cricket and that’s got to be beneficial to us.
“I thought Asad played well this tour. Azhar will tell you himself he was a little short this tour. But he is a quality player – Azhar playing well is in the top 10 Test batsmen in the world.”
The other senior to have a mixed tour was the captain Sarfraz Ahmed. It began badly with a poor personal Test in the win at Malahide. His wicketkeeping improved thereafter, though the runs are still not coming. In eight Tests since the start of 2017, he is averaging 22.78 with the bat.
“Sarfraz has been disappointing this tour and he knows that,” Arthur said. “I’m talking only with the bat – his keeping has been very good in the last two Tests.
“I’m very comfortable and I know he’ll come right. What he needs to work out is the balance between keeping, batting six and captaincy. That’s got to be his challenge going forward. I know he can handle that. He’s determined, he’s very passionate for this team and he’s a skilled batsman. Hopefully runs are around the corner for him.”