“The likes of Kohli and Smith have been competing with each other on altogether a different level where the debate is who the better match winner is. Whereas, Babar has not reached that stage yet. Maybe, it’s not fair to draw comparisons here but before permanent damages are made, Babar has to make some repairs soon”.
Pakistan’s new batting hope
What Virat Kohli is to India, Steven Smith to Australia, Kane Williamson to New Zealand and Joe Root to England, similarly, Pakistan have Babar Azam, in the limited-overs. At least, it is said so. He was among the rare cricketers in Pakistan who have grown through the domestic structure, rose through the ranks of the First-Class teams, Under-19 and Pakistan A team. With the legends Misbah-Ul-Haq and Younis Khan at the brink of their careers, Babar entered as a solution. Babar has been just two years into international cricket but in no time he has his place sealed at the top-order. With 37 ODIs in the span of two years, he averages 56.70 and has seven centuries and fifties each in the format.
Since Pakistan do not play at home, UAE is their adopted home venue, which still is counted as their home ground. Alike many players, who have struggled to perform away from home, even Babar has been stuck in that phase. Apart from UAE, he has had conversion issues wherever he has played so far in his career. He gives Pakistan the required starts but every single time he has failed to stick with longer and finisher the job for the team. The likes of Kohli and Smith have been competing with each other on altogether a different level where the debate is who the better match winner is. Whereas, Babar has not reached that stage yet. Maybe, it’s not fair to draw comparisons here but before permanent damages are made, Babar has to make some repairs soon.
Babar’s first 15 innings constituted five half-centuries and all the time he had failed to convert it into a big knock. Only in his 16th innings, he went on to touch the three-digit mark. He had not stopped just there. He scored a hundred in the next two ODIs too and became the first-ever batsman to record a hundred in all the matches of a three-ODI series. With his superb knock of 117-ball 106, he became just the seventh batsman in one-day cricket to smash hundreds in three consecutive matches. If Pakistan were in a turmoil phase, their series was played against a more messed up West Indies, but that came at home.
Regardless of the venue, the achievement could not snatch away any credit from Babar. After all, he was just 21-year-old at that time.
A flat track bully?
With three centuries in a row under his belt, Babar flew to Australia with the national team for a full-fledged series. They were thrashed left, right and centre in Test cricket.Then came the limited-overs where Pakistan could create moments for themselves. In all the five ODIs, Babar certainly got a great start. Out of those five matches, he has three 30-plus scores, one half-century and a hundred and that spoke volumes about his shaky conversion rate. Pakistan won only the second ODI where Babar scored 34 and his century at Adelaide came in a losing cause.
Majority of the dismissals were against outside off deliveries, which Babar should have either defended or left. A well set Babar should have been in a position to make correct judgements and had he done that, he could have stayed longer.
Even during the ICC Champions Trophy last year in England, Babar like most of his teammates played terribly against India in their opening match. He lasted only 12 deliveries and was dismissed the usual way; the Indians were aware of his outside off problems so Umesh Yadav used the tactic against him. He bowled two of such deliveries in a row and the second one got Babar, who struck it into the air to get caught for just eight runs. In the must-win match against Sri Lanka, he played a lazy shot to throw away his wicket for just 10 runs. Babar’s dismissal in the final against India was yet another frustrating moment for him and Pakistan. He was just four runs away from a fifty and once again failed to convert the starts into big knocks.
Just after the ICC event, Pakistan played Sri Lanka in the UAE and Babar was back to runs. He scored two centuries in a row in the first two ODIs and entered record book again. He became the first player to register five consecutive centuries in a country. Babar has begun 2018 ranking No. 4 in the ODI rankings, he is just below the best in business currently – Kohli, AB de Villiers and David Warner. With a new year, Babar must aim to find a solution to his out fo Asia woes, especially when Pakistan needs him the most. Pakistan at present are in New Zealand for the ODI series and are already down 0-1 in the five-match ODI series.
In the opening match, since Azhar Ali had unwisely exhausted the reviews, Babar could not overturn a harsh LBW call against himself. He still has four more matches ahead of him to prove that he is arguably Pakistan’s best batsman, irrespective of the location. More than that, the team needs him to deliver in order to repeat their terrific run from 2017.