Pakistan batter Azhar Ali said he feared he may never play a Test on home soil at one stage of his career after bowing out from the format with his 180th and final innings.
The 37-year-old was given a guard of honour by his team-mates after being bowled for a duck by England spinner and former Somerset colleague Jack Leach on day three of the third Test in Karachi, which ended with the tourists 112-2 in their second inning and needing just 55 more runs to complete a 3-0 series sweep.
Azhar’s first Test in Pakistan was his 76th – he marked that game by scoring a century against Sri Lanka – with his side spending years playing their home games in the United Arab Emirates after the attack on the Sri Lanka team bus in Lahore in 2009.
Former Pakistan Test and ODI captain Azhar ends his 97-Test career as his nation’s fifth-leading run-scorer, with only Younis Khan (10,099), Javed Miandad (8,832), Inzamam-ul-Haq (8,829) and Mohammad Yousuf (7,530) managing more than his 7,142.
Azhar told Sky Sports Cricket’s Michael Atherton: “At one point, I thought I would never play a Test at home but finally I did that and scored a century as well.
“It was a challenging time, not playing at home and after what happened in England with the spot-fixing [in 2010].
“It wasn’t nice, the next two years were hard on us, but credit to the boys. They have worked hard and brought the fans back and also the cricket has come back to Pakistan.
‘I take huge pride in giving Pakistan youngsters a chance’
“There have been a lot of ups and downs and challenges in my career. I feel 300 is a special thing for me [Azhar hit 302 against West Indies in Dubai in 2016] because not many people have done it.
“I am also the only Pakistani to score a double hundred in Australia [at Melbourne in 2016] so that is a big achievement, while another highlight was winning the Champions Trophy in 2017 in the white-ball format. I would take that one day in my whole career.
“Representing your country is an honour in itself, but leading them in both formats I played was a great honour for me. I gave a lot of youngsters a chance and they have managed to excel in their careers so I take huge pride in that.
“It is an exciting time for Pakistan cricket. I wish everyone well and hope they keep working hard and playing exciting cricket. People have also seen in this England series how supportive the fans are.
“You don’t always perform in every format but we have enough talent, enough potential so we have to stay patient. The players will gain experience with time and become a better team.”
‘I wanted to play 100 Test matches’
On bagging a duck in his final innings, Azhar added: “You want to finish on a high, want to contribute. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
“It was a bit of a disappointment so I have mixed feelings. I am thankful to the England and Pakistan team for giving me a send-off, that was nice.
“I was more emotional in the first innings than the second. It was a nervy start in the first innings. I was quite calm in the second, but I am a human being so there was some emotion.
“I played down the wrong line and Leachy got me out. He has bowled really well this series. Getting out to my former team-mate… it was my time to say goodbye to international cricket!”
Azhar revealed he had hoped to play 100 Test matches before retiring and says part of his decision to step away was not wanting to stand in the way of other players.
The Lahore-born player said: “I wanted to call it a day after 100 Test matches, but with the team wanting to rest me for the second Test here I didn’t think I would be able to achieve that.
“I also felt Shan Masood was on the bench and he is in great form and that Saud Shakeel has stepped in and done well. I thought I would call it a day after this season but rather than push it through to next year, I thought it was better to quit at home.”
Sky Sports Cricket’s Mark Butcher added of Azhar: “He is a terrific player, one of those solid blokes every team needs.
“Not flashy, doesn’t need or chase the headlines, but gets the job done. Pakistan will miss him.”
Watch day four of the third and final Test between Pakistan and England, in Karachi, live on Sky Sports Cricket and Sky Sports Main Event from 4.45am on Tuesday.