ISLAMABAD - The retirements of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan has seen Pakistan search for able replacements. Batsman Babar Azam , their former U-19 captain, seems to be someone who can carry the weight of expectations.
Azam, a first cousin of Akmal brothers Kamran and Umar, both Pakistan players, has been in splendid form in ODIs in the past one year or so.
Babar Azam has already compiled seven ODI centuries with the last one coming in the Abu Dhabi ODI against Sri Lanka on Monday (October 16). With Azhar Ali injured and senior pros Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik falling cheaply, Babar Azam anchored the innings with his gritty ton, guiding Pakistan to a 32-run victory and a 2-0 lead in the five-match series.
Azam, who turned 23 on Sunday, has seven centuries to his name in just 33 ODIs. Many greats have taken much longer to get to where the new Pakistan No 3 has in such a short span.Most consecutive ODI centuries in a countryThe 133-ball 101 in the second ODI was Lahore-born Babar Azam’s fifth consecutive ton in the UAE. He’s now the first-ever player to score five successive centuries in a country. Azam had hit three in three matches in a series against West Indies last year. It should be noted that all these tons have come in a winning cause.
Before Azam, South Africa’s AB de Villiers held this record. He smashed four hundreds in a row against India in the 2010-11 season.
Tons and runs
All of Azam’s hundreds have come at No 3. Since September 30 2016, he has slammed seven centuries. Only Australia vice-captain David Warner has matched the Pakistan batsman’s feat by hitting seven centuries in this period.Azam is also Pakistan’s highest run-getter, and fourth highest overall in this period, with 1133 runs in 18 matches. South Africa’s Quinton de Kock, India skipper Virat Kohli and Warner are ahead of him.
On Monday, he broke Proteas opener Hashim Amla’s record to become the fastest to seven ODI centuries. He took eight innings fewer than the former South Africa captain, who had reached the mark in 41 innings.
Shoaib Malik, former Pakistan captain, has no doubt Azam has taken the initial steps towards greatness.
“The way he is going in his career I would say he is an exceptional talent and is improving every day. The cricket board, the selection committee and the team management should keep backing him. We can see Pakistan is on the verge of having a great cricketer.”
“He (Babar Azam) is a young guy who will be an exceptional player. I’ll go so far as to say, at the same age, I reckon he’s as good as Virat Kohli, which I know is high praise but he’s right up there,” Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur had said in 2016 when Azam had played just 18 ODIs.
If the early promise is anything to go by, we can be assured Arthur’s prediction is likely to come true. But considering how Kohli has bailed out the team in several pressure situations, Babar Azam has a long way to go before he can match the Indian captain.
Pakistan’s record while chasing in ODIs isn’t that great, and that’s one area Azam would be tested to the core and will have to make a point.
For now, we can all enjoy watching the growth of an incredibly gifted player.