The rise and rise of Babar Azam

May 17, 2020

It’s on the basis of his stellar performances that he has been given the honour of leading Pakistan in two formats of the game

On the international circuit there are a few batsmen who are dominating world cricket with their consistent performances. Indian captain Virat Kohli, Australia’s Steven Smith, New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson and Pakistan’s Babar Azam are among them. Babar is the youngest of them.

Babar is the Pakistan Twenty20 captain and last week he achieved another honour when Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appointed him One-day International team skipper as well. He replaced wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfaraz Ahmed after the latter was axed from the team across formats last year.

The decision to appoint Babar ended uncertainty over the leadership of the Pakistan team in One-day Internationals. Since Sarfaraz’s removal as captain, Pakistan have not yet played an ODI. They last played a 50-overs game in September 2019.

Babar has been named captain for the 2020-21 season, which begins on July, during which Pakistan are scheduled to play nine Tests, six ODIs and 20 T20Is, besides the Asia Cup and the Men’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

But the chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq has said that Babar Azam has been given the ODI captaincy keeping in mind the 2023 World Cup so that the ace batsman can be groomed in three years’ time for the mega event.

Babar was named Pakistan’s vice-captain in October 2019 for the home series against Sri Lanka on the recommendations of head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq and the PCB Cricket Committee.

Pakistan were scheduled to play ODI series in the first week of April against Bangladesh in Lahore, but the coronavirus pandemic resulted in its cancellation. The next scheduled 50-over international, would, under normal circumstances, have come in the Netherlands in July. Babar Azam might get his first chance to lead the ODI side in October when Pakistan are scheduled to play against South Africa.

The 25-year-old Babar has an excellent record in both ODIs and T20Is, averaging 54.17 and 50.72, respectively. But he is less successful in Test cricket. In 48 innings of 26 Tests, he has scored 1850 runs, averaging 45.12 with five centuries and 13 fifties.

With his consistent performance and style of play, people have compared Babar to Kohli. No doubt Babar is talented but it is too soon to compare him with such a player as Kohli. The Indian captain is the world’s best batsman; he has been smashing records, one after another.

Babar has played 74 ODIs, scored 3359 runs including 11 hundred and 15 fifties. He has an impressive ODI average of 54.17 behind Kohli’s 59.33 among the top ODI players. Even AB de Villiers (53.58), Joe Root (51.05), MS Dhoni (50.57) and Rohit Sharma (49.27) are behind him.

In the ICC ranking of ODI players, Babar Azam stands third after Kohli and Rohit Sharma. In the Twenty20, Babar is on top of the ICC list while in Test cricket, Babar is 16th.

A few years back, former Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara said that Babar is one of the most exciting young talents he has seen in a long time.

Babar is one of the best batsmen at number 3 in ODIs. Last year in the second ODI against Sri Lanka in Karachi, Babar became the fastest batsman to make 1,000 runs in a calendar year in ODIs for Pakistan. During this period he scored two centuries and seven half centuries. The 25-year-old took just 19 innings to reach the landmark, two less than Javed Miandad, who scored 1,000 runs in 21 innings in 1987.

Babar also went past Kohli to become the third fastest batsman to score 11 ODI hundreds. He hit his 11th ODI century during the second ODI against touring Sri Lanka. He took just 71 innings to get to 11 hundreds, nine fewer than Kohli. Only Hashim Amla and Quinton de Kock got 11 tons faster than him, having taken 64 and 65 innings, respectively.

In January 2017, Babar was also the joint-fastest player in history to score 1,000 runs in ODIs when he struck a 100-ball 84 against Australia in the third ODI in Perth. He reached the landmark in just 21 innings, joining West Indies great Viv Richards, England’s Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott, and South Africa’s de Kock.

In the World Cup 2019, too, Babar’s performance was remarkable. He surpassed Miandad’s record of 437 runs in a single World Cup (1992). Despite Pakistan’s early exit, Babar finished with 474 runs in the cup including one hundred against New Zealand along with three 50s.

Babar was included in the Pakistan under-19 team for the 2010 World Cup as a 15-year-old. In the 2012 under-19 World Cup he led the Green-shirts. Babar was the highest run-getter for Pakistan. He was also the leading run-scorer in the tri-series that included Sri Lanka and Bangladesh Under-19s in 2009.

Babar’s consistent performance at under-19 level forced selectors to give him a chance to play for the national side. He was named in the squad for Zimbabwe series at home. He availed himself of the opportunity immediately and scored 54 off 60 balls in his debut match at Lahore on May 31, 2015, but the match was washed out because of heavy rain.

Babar scored three consecutive ODI centuries against the West Indies in 2016 in the UAE. He is the number one batsman in the shortest format with 896 points. Australia’s Glenn Maxwell is behind him with 815 points.

Babar also has the highest average, 54.21, in the shortest format of the game. His closest competitor is Kohli, who averages 50.00.

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The rise and rise of Babar Azam