GeneralFive Innings That Made Babar Azam

Five Innings That Made Babar Azam

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.

101* (127) vs. New Zealand – The Fab 4 Becomes the Fab 5?

By the time the 2019 World Cup came around, Babar Azam had been scoring enough runs to be considered as one of the world’s leading batsmen – but the majority of non-Pakistan fans were still reluctant to place him in the same bracket as the likes of Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, and Joe Root. One of the main reasons for this was that he was yet to perform on the big stage – his highest score in the 2017 Champions Trophy triumph was 46.

The jury was still out on whether Babar Azam can score runs when it matters the most. Before the World Cup, seven of his nine centuries had come against either Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, or West Indies in bilateral series. So how did Babar Azam prove to the world that he can step up when his nation needs it the most? Oh, by scoring a century against an unbeaten New Zealand side in a must-win game on a tricky pitch to keep Pakistan in the most prestigious tournament of them all, the World Cup, winning the Man of the Match award in the process. Not bad, eh?

I was lucky enough to be at Edgbaston to witness this high-quality innings, which was the catalyst for an excellent run of form across formats. This has seen the Fab 4 expanded into a Fab 5 for many cricket fans. While he has been consistent in all three formats (a poor Test series against Zimbabwe notwithstanding), ODIs have been his strongest suit. Since this match-winning century, Babar Azam averages a staggering 93 in ODI cricket at a strike rate of 99.28!

He enjoyed an absorbing duel with Trent Boult early on in his innings; in one eventful over, Boult beat the bat on two occasions, both deliveries whiskers away from the off stump, while Azam also caressed him through the off-side for two boundaries. He read the situation extremely well; he took his time to get going, as he could afford to, chasing less than 250, but switched gears with victory in sight.

On a spinning wicket, he hit consecutive boundaries off spinners twice, first off Kane Williamson, launching him over mid-off, followed by a pull shot to the square leg boundary. Not too long after that, he started the 42nd over with two dominant slog-sweeps off Mitchell Santner that raced away to the midwicket boundary. The atmosphere at Edgbaston was electrifying as Azam reached his century, with chants of “Babar, Babar, Babar” circulating around the Pakistani-dominated crowd, followed by a deafening cheer when Azam slashed away a short and wide delivery from speedster Lockie Ferguson to reach triple figures! He finished on 101*, with skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed hitting the winning runs.

103 (104) vs. South Africa – A Captain’s Innings!

Following the decision to sack Sarfaraz Ahmed as captain in all three formats, Babar Azam was an obvious candidate as his replacement. He had age on his side, is the first name on the team sheet, and had captained Pakistan before, at the Under-19 level. However, some fans were against making him skipper because the added pressure of captaincy could have detrimental effects upon his batting. It didn’t take long for Azam to show that there is no chance of that happening!

In his first away ODI series as captain, Pakistan traveled to South Africa. In the series opener, after putting South Africa in to bat, the hosts finished on 273-6, despite being in an ominous position of 55-4 within the first 15 overs. When a team makes a recovery like that, naturally, questions are asked of the captain. Going into the innings break, the momentum was with South Africa after a strong comeback.

Things went from bad to worse for Pakistan when Fakhar Zaman was dismissed for 8 by Kagiso Rabada. Run scoring would not be easy against a South Africa line-up featuring Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, and the rapid Anrich Nortje. Pakistan were stuttering at 26-1 off 9 overs, with the required run rate having already exceeded a run a ball. However, it was the final over of the PowerPlay in which Babar Azam got into his groove, with two exquisite strokes off Nortje that both flew to the off-side boundary.

Eventually, run-scoring became easier, the boundaries started to flow, and Imam-ul-Haq & Babar Azam were both eyeing up big scores when the partnership reached the 100-run mark. The partnership continued to grow, and Babar Azam was oozing classiness with each boundary, showing no mercy to the world-class bowling attack. Fittingly, Azam reached his century with a perfectly-timed flick that raced away to the leg-side boundary.

He was dismissed the next ball for 103 off 104 balls and was unsurprisingly named Man of the Match, although Pakistan almost made a meal of the chase after he returned to the pavilion. In total, he hit 17 fours – 68 of his 103 runs came from these boundaries; this equates to a whopping 66%! There is not a single cricket lover who would not have enjoyed watching this delightful innings, and it is an utter shame that no fans were present to witness it.

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