"Our track record in Australia isn't great. But I see this as a great opportunity to play fearless, positive cricket" - Azhar AFP

Pakistan are a week away from flying to Australia for three T20Is and two Tests. And in the case of Pakistan batsman Azhar Ali, life, in some sense, came full circle on Friday (October 18). Azhar had to relinquish the ODI leadership role he held back in 2017 after Pakistan were beaten 1-4 in Australia. And to Sarfaraz. Now in 2019, he will take over the reins of Pakistan's Test side from Sarfaraz, while Babar Azam has been handed the responsibility of the T20I side.

The Pakistan Cricket Board stripped Sarfaraz off captaincy duties after the now-former skipper across formats reportedly refused to give it up when asked by the board. Sarfaraz's dwindling form in Tests and ODIs has been a matter of contention for quite some time now. The T20I home series whitewash to Sri Lanka recently, though, added fuel to the fire, upping the angst. Azhar was always in the fray to take over Test captaincy, and the announcement came leading into Pakistan's opening stint in the World Test Championship, in what will be a fresh start for them.

"There could be no greater honour," Azhar said. "This is an opportunity for me to leave a legacy. The amount of cricket I have played for Pakistan, the next four-five years are very important for me both as a player and a captain. The Test championship is going to start and the Australia tour too; it's going to be tough but it's also an opportunity. Right now, we are No.7 in the (Test) rankings, so we have a fair distance to travel. The teams we'll play in the Test Championship will almost all be higher ranked than us. So there are many challenges, but it's also a great opportunity to play fearless, exciting cricket and get the desired results. It's also an opportunity to give new players a chance. Unless we bring in new players we don't know of their capability, so it's a great chance for the youngsters to come in and perform. It could be an exciting time for Pakistan cricket."

While Azhar heaped praise on the former skipper and the manner in which he led Pakistan, he stressed on the need to build a culture within the team. With the assurance of the captaincy stint being not being a stop-gap arrangement, Azhar is determined to implement his own ideas.

"We need to build a team culture wherein we make the right decisions under pressure and stay calm. We need to take positive options and empower players to take their own decisions when they're in those situations. This is something that I've learned from my own cricket, and I'll try to do better. We can't tell players everything, so we should teach them to take better decisions and once that happens, the results will follow."

What he believes will be helpful in this second stint in a leadership role for him will be Misbah-ul-Haq's presence, being chief selector and head coach.

"I've played a lot of cricket with Misbah and under him too, so we have an understanding that has been prevalent for many years. Second, the chairman and Misbahbhaihave given me the clear that I have provide most inputs. What's easy in this is that earlier if you had to ask the selectors for something, you and the head coach had to decide first and then if the selectors didn't agree, then you would struggle. But now if we make the decision then it's as good as done given that our chief selector is our head coach as well. The problems we are facing on the ground, or me personally as a captain, he will have an idea of all that, so it will be easier."

Azhar is currently Pakistan's leading batsman in Tests and he had also quit ODI cricket last year to focus on the longest format of the game, which he describes as the "best format". Currently, he has 15 centuries and has scored more than 5600 runs. His first challenge is a major one. And it begins on November 21. Given that Pakistan have not had much success in Australia, it's an uphill climb for him and his side. That said, he is up for the challenge.

"Our track record in Australia isn't great. But I see this as a great opportunity to play fearless, positive cricket. You can't beat Australia without playing positive cricket. So my message to the players will be to play aggressive cricket. It's not easy to beat Australia in Australia, but it's a chance for me to transfer my experience to the younger players and lead by example to leave a legacy that will always be remembered. I will ensure that the fear of loss or failure will not be felt by any of my players."