Babar Azam is Pakistan’s latest batting hero, and according to some, he is the best prospect in the past decade since Umar Akmal.
But unlike Akmal, who is his cousin, the 23-year-old has proved time and again that he is worthy of that tag. Often, during crucial junctures, Babar has proven that he belongs at the top level. However, that is largely restricted to limited overs cricket only.
In Tests, it has been another story, where Babar has looked ordinary at times. He has only managed to score 475 runs in 11 matches at a disappointing average of 23.75, with four half-centuries in 22 innings.
Babar has looked ordinary in recent Test games
That stat becomes further disappointing when two things put into perspective. One – Babar played six of those 11 matches against weak bowling opposition – West Indies and Sri Lanka. Two – he played those six matches on pitches that should not be daunting for a Pakistani batsman.
People might argue that Babar is young and he needs more time to get settled in the team, but looking at his struggles in the recently concluded series against Dinesh Chandimal’s side in the UAE, the problems are self-evident.
Babar has been struggling at multiple fronts, and one of them getting out near or just after a break. In his short career so far, the Lahore-born batsman has gotten out eight times within 10 balls of a session break, at times with careless batting.
But it is not completely Babar’s fault. Some of the blame must be shared by the people who selected him in the format, which demands hours of concentration. Did they consider the fact that he has just two centuries in 65 innings in first-class cricket? Such a record suggests that he still lacks the skills to compete in the toughest conditions.
“In his short career so far, the Lahore-born batsman has gotten out eight times within 10 balls of a session break, at times with careless batting.”
Another problem is his habit of getting out after getting a start, which can again be traced back to his performance in four-day cricket again., where In first class cricket, he has scored fifty or more plus runs in every 4.33 innings – a considerably lower figure compared to seasoned campaigners Fawad Alam’s 2.71 innings and Usman Salahuddin’s 2.92.
It is primarily because of that fact Babar was not in the list of top 50 run scorers during any of the last three seasons of the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy – Pakistan’s premier four-day tournament. The stats above suggest that Babar’s inclusion in the Test format was on the back of his impressive form in 50-over cricket, and that’s where Inzamam-ul-Haq & co. got it horribly wrong. Babar’s case should ideally be followed the way the BCCI tackled Virat Kohli’s career. The 28-year-old debuted for the Men in Blue 2008 and within no time, he became a crowd favourite of a cricket crazy nation. However, the Indian board resisted the calls for his selection in the longer format, and gave him his debut three years later, after he showed signs of maturing in first-class cricket.
On the contrary, the PCB selection committee took the easier route and selected Babar for the Test team just a year after his ODI debut, when he had a very average first-class record.
There would be an argument that India had the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in five-day cricket, which is why Kohli’s arrival was delayed, but the reality is otherwise. Unlike the PCB’s selection committee, India’s selection committee opted for seasoned first-class campaigners in Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Subramaniam Badrinath ahead of Kohli and asked the latter to establish himself in the longer format before he was selected.
But the Inzamam-led trio on the other hand, opted for an easy option. Instead of picking players who scored tons of runs in four-day cricket like Fawad or Usman who had proven their ability, they opted for a player who looked fluent and was getting success against weak bowling attacks in a totally different format. Not surprisingly, it just didn’t work.
Fawad Alam and Usman Salaudhin have better statistics than Babar Azam in first class cricket
It is about time when the board should act and ask this world-class talent to go back to the drawing board and start doing what other players do; spend time on the crease, score a lot of runs and become what Pakistan want him to become - one of the best in the world.