As we are a few months away from entering a new decade, I’ve been thinking about all the great Test matches that have occurred over the past ten years.
To leave a mark on Pakistan cricket and get your name emblazoned in the history books, you usually require a lot more than just a handful of excellent on-field performances.
You need to be talking in the media, experimenting with uncanny hairstyles every other week, and amplifying your sporting sexiness.
A scandalous incident here, a fabulous performance there and you’re off and running towards becoming a national superstar.
In this day and age of T20 madness, you need to be dashing in your game play and boast an all-guns-and-glory kind of aura to make a hefty living out of your name.
You look at the likes of Shahid Afridi, Mohammad Amir and Umar Akmal who have represented Pakistan cricket over the years and you realise how accurate this is. Newly discovered cricketing sensations, Shadab Khan and Hasan Ali, aren’t that far off from the target either.
Then, out of the blue, appears this young, not-so-bravado bloke and redefines the perception of batsmanship in Pakistan.
A small glimpse at Babar Azam and you will instantly notice his ordinary stature, which is totally uncharacteristic of the modern-day batters and pinch-hitters.
A small glimpse at his stats, though, and you’ll be bewitched by how staggering they are. His numbers in ODIs and T20s are freakish. Babar averages above 50 in both formats, a record that is truly unparalleled.
The 24-year-old wonder-boy from Lahore averages an incredible 54.21 and 53.55 in T20 internationals and ODIs respectively. Only Virat Kohli – the Picasso of consistency – enjoys such an incredible record. Babar unflinchingly stands eyeball-to-eyeball against Virat in the limited overs arena.
Personifying elegance and simplicity, Babar has achieved these runs in the most underrated of manners. The ease with which he accumulates his runs is unrivalled.
Babar is not about the ugly hoicks through cow corner, he is about the sumptuous off-drives. He is not about the wild slogs and the skiers, he is about the clever maneuvering of deliveries and creaming the gaps. He is not someone who goes about things with the throw-the-kitchen-sink-at-everything kind of approach, rather he is ominously tranquil and level-headed at the crease. Babar is all grace and class.
Unlike his incredible on-field exploits in the limited-over formats, for some reason, Babar couldn’t find his feet in Test cricket. He remained in the firing line for his supposed technical frailties and lack of temperament for the longest format.
Since the advent of 2018, though, he has turned over the tables in his own merry way. Averaging in excess of 55 in 2018, Babar has been Pakistan’s mainstay in the Test format and their highest run-getter, too.
The turnaround commenced during the twin series in the UAE against Australia and New Zealand.
Babar played out a gutsy knock against Australia but calamitously fell short of a well-deserved ton by a run. The right-hander made up for it briskly when he brought up his maiden Test century against the Black Caps a month later.
Babar then accompanied the national team on their tour to South Africa – a trip that presented him challenges far more stern than the ones he had encountered in international cricket to that point.
In his very first outing on a lively track, Babar faced an absolute masterclass against Dale Steyn – the greatest fast-bowler in the Proteas’ Test history and a goliath in modern-day cricket. Pakistan’s batting had terribly faltered and they were in no man’s land after winning the toss and electing to bat first.
With two wickets in the bag and the tail getting exposed, Babar decided to counter-punch and rack up some quick runs to give his country something to bowl at.
Unbelievably, it was Steyn who copped Babar’s wrath. He took the assault to South Africa’s premier pacer, drilling him through the covers and driving him sweetly passed mid-on and mid-off. The risk-free, effortless off-side play was once again on show as Babar smoked a boundary after boundary.
Such was the serenity in his mannerisms while attacking Steyn that only a handful of people realised that within four Steyn overs, Babar had amassed an astonishing ten boundaries against one of the best to play the sport.
And he did this in utmost comfort. No hard hands, no swaying away from the Kookaburra’s line, no chirping and chattering in the bowler’s face and no gross strokes that go sailing into the sky. Just manipulating the field, leaning into some gentle drives and tender front-foot pushes and gliding it through the slips cordon occasionally to steal four runs in the third man region.
Just Babar doing what he does best. It was a lionhearted effort that could possibly elevate Babar’s Test career.
But despite the gentleman that he is and the vital contributions that he makes for his team, Babar rarely gets the limelight that he deserves. His impeccable consistency goes criminally unnoticed. His picture-perfect, unfaltering technique that seems to have been extracted right out of the cricketing textbooks is overlooked when the hideous hoicks of his counterparts are lauded.
He is not the starboy or the darling of the nation but he is trying his best to stand out and make a difference in an atypical, un-Pakistani fashion. With the runs he is piling up and the record books that he is tumbling over, Babar is well on his way to become one of the greatest batsmen Pakistan cricket has ever given birth to.
It would be awfully unfair if he doesn’t get the acknowledgment that he richly deserves. Babar is at odds with the brand of cricket that is followed and adorned and celebrated in this part of the subcontinent.
He just might not be the hero that Pakistan cricket deserves, but he’s certainly the one that it needs.