We take a look at five standout innings that led to Babar Azam becoming the top-ranked batsman in ICC's ODI rankings.
The year is 2012, there is an Under-19 World Cup taking place, and there is a new name being whispered around the Pakistan cricket circuit as the potential ‘Next big thing.’ That name is Babar Azam, and he was often referred to as “the cousin of the Akmal brothers.” Fast forward nine years, and it’s fair to say he is known for more than just being “the cousin of the Akmal brothers” – the now 26-year-old is the captain of Pakistan in all three formats, has broken records aplenty, especially in white-ball cricket, and is now the #1 ranked batsman in ODI cricket. To celebrate his rise to the top spot, we take a look back at some of the best ODI innings that have taken him from a talented youngster to the world’s best batsman, according to the ICC!
83 (77) vs. New Zealand – This Kid Can Bat!
Not many people can deny that both New Zealand and Australia are beautiful countries to play cricket in. Unfortunately, one problem for cricket lovers based pretty much anywhere except that part of the world is the time difference. Already 1-0 down in the series, with one match abandoned, Pakistan took on New Zealand at Eden Park, needing a victory to avoid losing the series.
The diehard Pakistan fans who would have woken up early (or perhaps stayed up late – as was the case for me, a UK-based Pakistan cricket nut!) would have been no doubt regretting their decision when Pakistan slumped to 20-2. But that regret would soon turn into gratification, as the talented Babar Azam announced himself to the world!
He had shown glimpses of his talent before. Prior to this innings, he had hit four half-centuries, one against Zimbabwe on debut, two against England, and one in the previous ODI against New Zealand, but this was the innings that got everyone excited that Babar Azam, unlike many other talented players who eventually faded away, will fulfill his potential.
He combined with veteran Mohammad Hafeez to put the New Zealand bowling attack to the sword in a partnership worth 134 in just 17.5 overs. Azam played some beautiful shots, clearly not fazed by the likes of Trent Boult and Matt Henry, and New Zealand looked short of ideas in the field. Unfortunately, Pakistan could not capitalize on the platform set by Azam and Hafeez – Azam being dismissed for his highest score at the time, 83, and Pakistan were eventually bowled out for 290 – after seemingly being set for at least 320. The collapse would cost Pakistan, who lost a final over thriller.
117 (106) vs. West Indies – Babar Azam Writes Himself Into the Record Books!
Say what you like about the standard of the West Indies team that Pakistan were facing in this bilateral series, but to score three centuries in a row in the sweltering heat of UAE is a phenomenal achievement for any batsman, let alone a 21-year-old in the embryonic stages of their international career!
Pakistan batted first in all three games, and his first-ever international century came in the 1st ODI; he walked in to bat after skipper Azhar Ali was dismissed off the first ball of the match. He was eventually dismissed for 120 off 131, at a strike rate of 91.60, while in the second match, he scored 123 off 126, with a strike rate of 97.61.
The series clearly followed a pattern of his strike rate getting better with each century as his 117 off 106 in the dead rubber came at a strike rate of 110.37 – he hit eight fours and one six in this innings. His 3rd consecutive century helped Pakistan set a total of 308-6, which proved well beyond the West Indies’ reach. They were bowled out for 172 as Pakistan whitewashed the visitors 3-0.
In the space of less than a week, Azam had gone from zero international centuries to three international centuries. What records did he break with this magnificent performance? Well, for starters, his aggregate of 360 broke the record of most runs scored by a batsman in a three-match series, beating Quinton de Kock’s tally of 342 in a series against India in 2013. He also became the first Pakistani to score a century in each match of a three-match ODI series, and the second overall, after South Africa’s Quinton de Kock in the previously mentioned series against India.
100 (109) vs. Australia – An Away Century Against the World Champions!
The fifth and final ODI of this bilateral series took place in Adelaide - with the series already wrapped up by Australia, Pakistan, targeted a consolation victory. After electing to bat first, Australia set Pakistan a mammoth target of 370. This was always going to be a huge ask against a bowling line-up spearheaded by Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins - had Pakistan achieved their target, it would have been the 3rd highest successful run chase in the history of ODI cricket.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan fell to defeat, losing the ODI series 4-1 but, there was a big positive to take out of the loss. That positive was Babar Azam scoring his fourth ODI century, and his first against a top team, with all due respect to the West Indies. The then 22-year-old achieved what the likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar, and Javed Miandad couldn’t – an ODI century against Australia in Australia! In fact, he is one of only two Pakistani batsmen to score an ODI century against Australia in Australia, Zaheer Abbas being the other, way back in 1981.
Azam showed no signs of nervousness as he approached the milestone, with the highlight of his innings being three consecutive boundaries off James Faulkner to take him to the verge of his century before reaching triple figures with a single off Josh Hazlewood. He was dismissed soon after for 100 off 109 balls. Some fans were quick to criticize his strike rate, suggesting he batted too slowly in such a tall chase, but the reality is that such a large total was always going to be out of Pakistan’s reach.
In the bigger picture, this innings - against no less than the World Champions at the time, showed fans just how special a player Babar Azam really is, further consolidating his reputation as a legend in the making.