International cricket is back, and we have a ripper of a series coming up from July 8 as England host the West Indies.
A couple of days ago, Virat Kohli – arguably the world’s best batsman – tweeted a picture of him playing the perfect cover drive.
The caption read: “A good cover drive is therapeutic”. It is true that there are very few batsmen in the modern game that can match a Virat Kohli cover drive. A good stride forward, nice balance, meeting the ball under his eyes and the magic of his malleable wrists to find the gap are all ingredients of the perfect Kohli cover drive.
But we are not here to talk about Virat Kohli. There is somebody else that has arrived on Australians shores this summer who has the ability to mesmerize Australian crowds with his silky touch and therapeutic cover drives.
Even though India has become the business epicentre of the cricketing world, it is still the glorious summers of England and Australia that throw up the leading stories of the game – the stories that enthrall the fans like no others.
This English summer, the hosts were crowned world champions. It was as much a summer of Ben Stokes as it was of Steven Smith. And as the curtains are drawn over a fascinating English season, the cricketing world has its eyes on Australia.
What new stories can Australia throw up this time? As Australia welcomes Pakistan and New Zealand to their shores, fans will look forward to a fascinating duel between two leading batsmen of their sides.
No, it’s not Steve Smith versus Kane Williamson, which in itself is a marvellous prospect.
But, before that, it is time for the Babar Azam show in Australia.
There is no doubt that Babar Azam is a phenomenal young talent to emerge from Pakistan. But so was Umar Akmal. So was Sohaib Maqsood. Then there is Fakhar Zaman.
But none of them can draw the crowd’s attention like Babar does. When Babar bats, you sit back and enjoy. When Babar caresses the ball through the covers, you watch it again. And then again. It does not matter whether Pakistan win or lose. Babar always wins. He is the new Rolls-Royce in town. Australian bowlers, watch out!
This summer, Babar will be up against one of the greatest batsmen ever to play the game. Steve Smith missed a year of international cricket, but he has not missed his touch. A year out has, if anything, made Smith more focused and more hungry.
Smith is not on top of your list of most aesthetically pleasing batsmen. Yet he makes you fall in love with his batting. He is not a Rolls-Royce. He is not a Ferrari. He is just a powerful army tank that refuses to budge.
This Australian summer, we will witness two distinct tales of batsmanship. Babar will time the ball ever so sweetly. Smith will tickle and fiddle the ball in the gaps intelligently.
Babar will get on top of the bounce and caress it through covers. Smith will get on top of the bowler and hammer him to midwicket.
Babar will bless the off side with his delightful strokes. Smith will torment the leg side with his cleverly manoeuvred flicks.
Babar will delight us with his gorgeous cover drives. Smith will entertain us with his action-packed leaves. And so it promises to be a summer full of runs.
Babar has already started the Australian tour with typically therapeutic 50. Smith has returned the favour in style with a match winning 80.
And even if Babar might not be able to influence the result of the series, one thing is certain: the fans will have a visual treat this summer even before the Williamson-Smith battle takes centre stage.