Azhar Mahmood Sagar (Punjabi: اظہر محمود ساگر; born 28 February 1975) is a Pakistani-born cricketer who became a British citizen in 2011 and is now a fully qualified English cricketer. Originally his father objected to his interest in cricket, but later started to appreciate it seeing his accomplishments. As a teenager, Azhar was mentored by Irfan Bhatti who played a One Day International for Pakistan in the early 90’s. When not doing net practice, Azhar would fancy himself playing tape ball cricket on the cemented pitch in the cricket ground in front of his home.
He joined the Pakistani team primarily as a medium pacer but he has surprised many by his batting powers. His hard hitting but orthodox batting skills have also been extremely useful in the one-day game. Unlike most Pakistani pacers who are swing bowlers, he is a useful English-style seam bowler, who can chip in with wickets in time of need.
In 2000, Lt-General Tauqir Zia, then the PCB chairman, said that the board would choose the next captain – not based on seniority alone – and if people find the choice unacceptable they will not be selected. Later – in front of some senior players – he told Azhar Mahmood that he will be the next Pakistan captain. Together they would plan the future strategy. But till now this never came to happen.
He was recalled to the national side for the ODI series against South Africa in early 2007, but subsequently dropped when the 2007 Cricket World Cup team was announced. He was however recalled to go with the squad to the West Indies after a knee injury to Abdul Razzaq. It was Mahmood's 3rd World Cup.
However, aside from playing in a practice match, Azhar did not get a chance to participate in the World Cup and Pakistan's early exit from the tournament meant that he was once again, in line for being axed from the national squad. Following his exclusion, Azhar returned to playing county cricket in UK. Over the years, due to his constant exclusion from the Pakistani squad and the fact that he has crossed the 30-year mark in his age, it seems that Mahmood is not as interested in returning to Pakistani line up as he once was. His weight gain, mediocre performances in ODIs, combined with the tough competition for the all rounder slot in the Pakistani line up means that his chances for making a return to the national squad are very limited. He has recently signed with the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and has been released from his central contract.
Recently he has received British citizenship, thus allowing him to play for Kent as an English-qualified player, further distancing himself from a recall to the Pakistan side.
It was announced that Azhar would be playing for the Auckland Aces as one of their overseas professionals in the 2011/12 season. In the 4 February 2012 IPL auction, Mahmood was sold to Kings XI Punjab for $200,000, double his base price of $100,000.
Wisden in 2001 included Azhar Mahmood's innings of 132 for Pakistan against South Africa at Kingsmead Cricket Ground, Durban in 1997–98 as the 8th best Test Innings of All Time in its list of Wisden 100. It mentioned – "South Africa's pace attack had more depth than at any other time in their history: Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock supported by Fanie de Villiers and Lance Klusener. No surprise that Pakistan were put in to bat on a treacherous pitch – or that they should be reduced to 89 for 5. Salvation came in the form of a 22-year-old allrounder who seemed to be batting too low at No.7: his century was already his third in six Test innings against South Africa. Tucking into a great pace bowler like Donald, he scored 96 runs in boundaries while proving himself an expert shepherd of a tail: he made 90% of Pakistan's last 106 runs. They went on to win a low-scoring match by 29."