SOUTHAMPTON (AFP) - Pakistani skipper Azhar Ali has said there were "lots of positives" for his side despite their 1-0 series loss to England, adding that there is room for improvement but as a team, he is proud of the overall performance.
A three-match contest in which both the second and third Tests at Southampton were weather-affected draws ultimately hinged on England's three-wicket win in the series opener at Old Trafford.
Pakistan who had not played international cricket for several months because of COVID-19 were the better side for much of the time in Manchester until, having reduced England to 117-5 chasing a target of 277, they were undone by a partnership of 139 between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes.
But even though this was Pakistan's first series defeat by England in a decade, the like of opening batsman Shan Masood, who made 156 in Manchester, and the pace trio of Shaheen Afridi, Mohammad Abbas and Naseem Shah all impressed at different stages.
It was wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan, however, who was named Pakistan's man of the series following an outstanding campaign behind the stumps that also saw him score 336 runs, including two fifties, at an average of over 40.
"There is great regret [at losing the first Test] but congratulations to England," said Azhar following the finish of the third Test on Tuesday.
"There were lots of positives in our team — we played competitive cricket throughout the series. There is room for improvement but as a team, I am proud of how we fought."
Azhar, much criticised for his tactics during Buttler and Woakes' decisive stand, managed just 38 runs in the first two Tests.
But the 35-year-old top-order batsman responded with an unbeaten 141 in the first innings of the third Test, keeping England at bay during a century-partnership with Rizwan after Pakistan had collapsed to 75-5 at the Ageas Bowl.
During his innings, Azhar become just the fifth Pakistani after Younis Khan [the current squad's batting coach], Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf to have scored 6,000 Test runs
"The first two Tests were tough for me, I was under a lot of pressure, I tried to keep things simple and it worked," Azhar told the BBC. "I was getting stuck with my front foot a lot, committing too early, I worked on it with my coaches."
Meanwhile, Azhar was proud of the way Pakistan, as the West Indies had in a 2-1 defeat by England that marked international cricket's return from lockdown last month, played their part in a behind closed doors campaign that might have been scuppered completely by the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's been a fantastic series under the circumstances, hats off to the organisers who did it in such a short time, at least we got cricket going and people could at least watch on TV," he said.
"Both teams played with great spirit, which is very important. Both teams were fighting for the win but had respect for each other. We enjoyed it."
Azhar also found himself part of cricket history on Tuesday when he was the batsman dismissed as England great James Anderson became the first pace bowler, and only fourth in all, to take 600 Test wickets.
"At least I will get more air time now because they will show that wicket again and again," said Azhar, caught at first slip by opposing captain Joe Root off a superb Anderson delivery that both swung and bounced to take the shoulder of the bat.
"I find him the toughest bowler, especially in English conditions. He doesn't give you anything, you have to bring your A-game.
"He's still bowling at decent pace, with swing and seam, congratulations to him."