Babar Azam and a case for adoring simplicity

Against the West Indies he displayed precisely what makes him so good

Taha Anis April 03, 2018
Against the West Indies he displayed precisely what makes him so good. PHOTO: AFP

KARACHI: Babar Azam is 23. This is a fact that bears repeating and reminding. Such is the head on those slender shoulders that it isn’t difficult to forget that.

The 23-year-old has a ridiculous ODI and T20I record. He averages 51.11 in ODIs, having already scored 1,789 runs in 50-over cricket for the Men in Green. For context, that is more than skipper Sarfraz Ahmed’s career tally. His 97* knockout against West Indies in the second T20I took his T20I average to over 50 as well; 53.15 to be exact.

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Such numbers are not only obscene but also almost unheard of. They are out of the reach of every batsman in the world whose name isn’t Virat Kohli. In other words, for anyone who isn’t an absolute freak of a nature.

Nobody else averages 50 in both limited-overs formats. Not the other big three — Steven Smith, Joe Root and Kane Williamson. Not the old guard — Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and MS Dhoni. Only Kohli and Babar.

Against the West Indies he displayed precisely what makes him so good. The grace and the elegance. The dismissive nature of his drives. The utter control in every shot. The riskfree manner of run-getting. The uncanny ability to make it all look so so easy.

Yet it also showed precisely why he is so criminally underrated in Pakistan. On Monday night, Babar had a strike-rate of over 167, yet played almost none of the shots that really get the average Pakistani heart racing. There was no wild swing at the ball, no skiers, and almost no balls sailing straight over the bowler’s head. Even the six he hit was a lesson in technique; eyes on the ball, body still, onto the pitch of the ball, doesn’t try to hit it too hard, perfect follow through. Coaches in England wouldn’t have seen anything more beautiful since they laid their eyes on their first born.

Yet you can hit the most stylish shots in the world as many times as you want but in Pakistan you aren’t considered sexy unless you can send an industraial hoick sailing into the night sky. For proof, talk to Messrs Muhammad Yousuf and Shahid Afridi.

But there are other reasons behind why Babar isn’t the darling of this strange strange nation. Babar is the kind of player we respect, the kind whose hand we would like to collectively shake after a match-winning performance, rather than the kind of player we adore, the kind who we would run up to before embracing them in a bear hug.

He isn’t in your face, he doesn’t wear chains around his neck, he doesn’t dye his hair or cut it in strange ways, he isn’t all guns and glory. He isn’t Shadab Khan, he isn’t Muhammad Amir, he isn’t Umar Akmal — three of the nations most recent darlings.

Hell, even his shots are almost apologetic. Just a simple front foot push, as economical as they come. He isnt macho and bravado, he is sense and sensibility. He is the sweet boy you would want your daughter to marry, not the cool kid on the block. He doesn’t scream and shout, he merely smiles shyly.

Perhaps this lack of adoration is down to Babar too; self-effacing and down-to-earth as he is.

“I simply try to give my 100 per cent wherever I play,” he said during an interview with Daily Express’s Saleem Khaliq. “I’ve worked very hard to get here. I believe the harder I work, the better the results will be.”

This is a player determined to make good of his ridiculous talent. Perhaps he has learned from the mistakes of his two cousins — Kamran and Umar Akmal — who have both been bigger superstars than Babar at the peak of their powers but have never come anywhere near close to Babar’s on-field exploits.

Comparing Babar with Umar seems almost like rubbing the poor Akmal’s nose in it — akin to beating a dead horse — but it makes for interesting reading into why Umar, rather than Babar, was the one the country was quicker to love.

In ODIs, Babar has scored 31.7% of his runs in fours and 5.7% of his runs in sixes. Umar’s tally is 34.1% for fours and 9.9% for sixes. In T20Is, the dichotomy between the two increases further. Babar has 38.5% in fours and 7.8% in sixes. Umar has 28.9% in fours but a whopping 19.5% in sixes.

Conventional wisdom would say the man hitting more boundaries would be the one scoring at a higher rate. Yet there is very little to choose from. Umar’s 85.94 in ODIs just about betters Babar’s 84.26 but the younger cousin boasts a strike-rate of 127.49 as compared to Umar’s 122.9. What Babar lacks in boundary hitting, he makes up for in canny maneouvering of the field and good running between the wickets. Of course Babar absolutely dwarves Umar in terms of average; he absolutely dwarves every Pakistani cricketer in terms of average.

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The Lahore-born Babar is on course to becoming the greatest batsman Pakistan has ever produced. He is going about it in the best of manners; quietly and without controversy, breaking records along the way.  It would be a pity though, if he doesn’t win over our collective hearts in the process too.

It is high time that we embrace Babar in the warmest of bear hugs rather than giving him yet another handshake.


Ahsan | 4 years ago | Reply Very well written, Sir! Indeed, he deserves more adulation than what he gets at the moment. He goes about his business almost as tactfully as a neurosurgeon, but this nation of ours loves rebels, not cool-headed world-class craftsmen.
Careless Whisper | 4 years ago | Reply Babar No doubt is an excellent T20 & ODI batsman and have proved it again & again, but to become the all time best Pak have produced, he need to proof his skills as batsman in test cricket... I love his batting style.. wish him all the best
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