“Babar Azam just didn’t seem to be made for long haul and people had already started writing him off as a Test player. But he was determined to prove everyone wrong and carried on his battle. Finally, the dawn of a new year in 2018 brought about a change in his Test fortunes as he reaped the rewards of his hard work and dedication”
Babar Azam has proved himself a force to reckon in limited overs cricket ever since he made his international debut in 2015. An overall average of 52.35 and strike-rate of 94.15 in 78 limited over international matches suggest how prolific he has been for Pakistan in the last three years.
However, until last year, the same couldn’t be said of him when it came to playing in the longest format of the game. After making his Test debut in 2016, he was averaging a dismal 23.75 in 11 matches with a total tally of 475 runs to his name, consisting of only four fifties and a best score of an unbeaten 90. Not only that, he registered 5 ducks in the 12 innings that he played in 2017 and was averaging an even lower 16.73 in the year as compared to 32.33 in 2016.
Azam just didn’t seem to be a player made for the long haul and people had already started writing him off as a Test player. But he was determined to prove everyone wrong and carried on his battle. The team management retained their faith in him too and kept backing him in the format, despite his failures. Finally, the dawn of a new year in 2018 brought about a change in his Test fortunes and Azam reaped the rewards of his hard work and dedication.
He started the year with a steady knock of 59 runs in the second innings of the only Test match against Ireland at Dublin in May and then followed it up with an unbeaten innings of 68 runs—during the course of which he was retired hurt—at Lord’s against England. He didn’t get off to the best of starts after his comeback from injury in the series against Australia in October as he registered scores of 4, 28* and 0 in the first three innings. However, he turned the tides in his favour with a match winning knock of 99 runs in the second innings of the second Test match at Abu Dhabi which Pakistan won. And he has carried the momentum gained from that knock in the ongoing series against New Zealand as well.
Azam started the series with a splendid knock of 62 runs in the first innings of the first Test. Although he failed in the second innings having scored just 13 runs, he has made amends for that with his maiden Test century in the ongoing second match. He walked out to bat at the fag end of the first day with Pakistan managing a total of only 174 for 4. They have always been vulnerable to collapse in these situations previously but Azam negotiated the final overs of the day successfully and ensured that Pakistan didn’t lose any more wickets.
The kiwi bowlers are quite adept in using the conditions during the morning session to good effect but Azam, along with Haris Sohail at the other end, stood like unbreakable brick-walls in front of them all day long. While Sohail continued to frustrate them with his dogged defensive approach, Azam took up the mantle of scoring runs and that too at a good rate.
He dispatched the bad deliveries to the boundary without any fuss and showed equal respect to the good ones with a strong defence every time. The Kiwi bowlers had no clue how to get the better of him during the entire course of his innings. If those classy drives, flicks and cuts that fetched him fours were not enough already to torment the bowlers, he started dancing down the tracks to dispatch them directly into the stands as well. He did so twice in his innings and completely broke the fighting spirit of the bowlers.
The main highlight of his innings was the way he played with equal dominance on both sides of the wicket. He was slowly approaching his century but Sohail departed leaving his partner stranded on 99 runs. Azam had reached this score last month and was unfortunately dismissed as well. So, it was making him nervous this time as their 186 run partnership ended. Pakistan went to tea with the fall of Sohail’s wicket and Azam batting on 99.
When play resumed after Tea, he took his time as the kiwi bowlers were playing their mind games with close-in fielders stationed for him. the battle went on for a fe overs and finally, he got to his maiden Test ton with a flick behind square leg that fetched him a couple of runs. He was ecstatic and overjoyed as he achieved the feat after a long wait of 32 innings.
He pressed on the accelerator after scoring his century as Pakistan were looking for quick runs in order to declare their innings. He added 26 more runs to his tally until skipper Sarafraz Ahmed at the other end decided to declare their innings on 418/5. Azam remained unbeaten on a score of 127 runs. It was a wonderful innings filled with sublime strokes all around the ground and finally showed the class Babar Azam belongs to.
Azam has scored 474 runs in 10 innings this year at an astonishing average of 67.71 as compared to his combined tally of 475 runs in 22 innings in the last two years. It looks like Azam’s Test career is finally up and running as he would be looking forward to making the most of his opportunities in the coming time ahead.