Azhar Ali to return to Somerset for 2019 season

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LONDON: Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali is returning to Somerset as an overseas player for the 2019 season, the club announced on Monday. The 33-year-old, currently playing in the second Test against New Zealand in Dubai, will be available for the entire County Championship and Royal London One-Day Cup campaigns in his second spell at Taunton.

Azhar will not play for Pakistan at next year’s World Cup in England and Wales, having retired from one-day internationals, making him available for the whole summer after making a positive impression during a spell at Somerset last season.

“I very much enjoyed my time with the club this year and I am really pleased to be going back,” he said.

“Somerset is a special club and it was a pleasure to play for them in 2018. There was a really good atmosphere in the dressing room and there are some very good players at the club. The supporters were excellent and I look forward to seeing everyone again next year.”

Director of cricket Andy Hurry said: “Azhar fitted in seamlessly during his time with us towards the back end of the 2018 season. Knowing the positive impact that he will have both on and off the field, alongside his availability all summer, were key factors in wanting to secure him.”

Azhar is currently Pakistan’s leading active Test run-scorer, but he retired earlier this month from playing ODIs. With the 2019 summer dominated in part by the World Cup in England, and Pakistan only playing white-ball cricket between January and October, Azhar can throw himself into a full campaign at Taunton.

“We are delighted to have secured a player of Azhar’s quality and experience for the duration of the summer and having him available for all our Specsavers County Championship and Royal London One-Day Cup fixtures fits our needs perfectly,” Somerset’s director of cricket, Andy Hurry, said. “Azhar fitted in seamlessly during his time with us towards the back end of the 2018 season.

Knowing the positive impact that he will have both on and off the field, alongside his availability all summer were key factors in wanting to secure him. “Whilst he was here, he spent a lot of time working alongside the Second XI players and giving them the benefit of his experience. That is exactly the sort of support you want from your overseas signing and I can’t speak highly enough of him as a person.”

Azhar, a former captain of the one-day team, helped Pakistan lift the 2017 Champions Trophy in England. He has been a mainstay of the Test side since 2010, averaging close to 45 with 14 hundreds. During a seven-match stint with Somerset in the Championship last season, he scored 402 runs at an average of 33.50, with a best score of 125.

“I very much enjoyed my time with the club this year and I am really pleased to be going back,” Azhar said. “Somerset is a special club and it was a pleasure to play for them in 2018. There was a really good atmosphere in the dressing room and there are some very good players at the club. The supporters were excellent, and I look forward to seeing everyone again next year.”