Former Pakistan and current Sri Lanka head coach, Mickey Arthur, has termed Babar Azam’s hundred against New Zealand in the World Cup as ‘one of the best one-day innings’ he has ever seen.
Speaking exclusively to Cricingif from Sri Lanka, Arthur highlighted Babar's innings against New Zealand as 'a turning point’. Pakistan, who had a poor run at the start of their World Cup with a seven-wicket drubbing at the hands of West Indies, made a strong comeback towards the latter half of the tournament but couldn’t make it to the top four with net run rate going against them.
On a slow, turning surface at Edgbaston, Pakistan were off the hook while chasing 238 against New Zealand with both openers gone cheaply. It was ultimately the partnership between Babar Azam (101*) and Haris Sohail (68) which brought Pakistan over the finishing line and kept alive the uncanny similarities between their 1992 and 2019 World Cup campaigns.
“I think his World Cup was incredible. His innings against New Zealand in the World Cup on that surface is still one of the best one-day innings I’ve ever seen,” said Arthur.
“The roar when he got his hundred that went around Edgbaston that day was simply amazing. It was almost like the crowd had seen the emergence of a batting genius. That was the turning point of Babar Azam for me.”
Babar Azam’s development as a Test player has been a big positive for Pakistan ever since the departure of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. He came onto the Test arena in 2016, making his debut against West Indies at Dubai. At that point in time, his white-ball credentials were starting to take off but his defensive game in red-ball cricket was still under the pump.
“In 2016, we knew he was a very good white ball player. He had to develop into a Test cricketer,” said Arthur on Babar’s red-ball credentials. “I remember the amount of flak I used to get from the media because I continued to play Babar. I remember sitting saying whatever game I’m coaching in, be it any format of the game, Babar Azam will be selected.”
Before the start of Australia tour last year, Babar had only one Test hundred to his name against New Zealand (127*) in Dubai. Once the Australia tour started, he seemed to be a different batsman all together. He scored an eye-catching 157 against Australia A in a pink-ball game in Perth – the footage of which is still shared on social media with special focus on the ball making a crisp sound off his blade.
In the two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide, he scored 104 and 97 respectively before smashing two Test hundreds against Sri Lanka and one against Bangladesh. In his last five Tests, he has four centuries under his belt.
“I always knew he had the talent and skill, we just had to be very patient with him in red-ball cricket,” Arthur continued. “I remember Jacques Kallis starting with South Africa and I think after ten Tests, he was averaging nine. But he was persisted with because he had that incredible talent. Ultimately we saw what Kallis did. I think Babar Azam is going to do exactly the same.”
Before the start of the World Cup last year, Babar had scored a hundred against England at Nottingham where he took 104 balls to get to his milestone. At that point, cricket statistician Mazher Arshad posted a stat which stated that in 25 balls leading up to his hundred, Babar didn’t take any sort of risks to up the ante and his maximum scoring shot was a single.
Pundits came hard at Babar for not pushing the pedal as Pakistan were almost 20-25 runs short in a total of 340 runs. But in the World Cup, that thing had changed after Arthur’s word with Babar.
“I had a word with Babar after that hundred at Nottingham. That was probably the hardest ever I was on Babar and I did that publicly in the dressing room straight after the game. I knew the stat. It’s a natural thing that when players get close to the milestones, that happens.
“My point around that was the fact that Babar was too good a player to do that. And in that same game, Jason Roy went to 90 and he struck a four and a six. We got to 340 and they chased it down in the last over. If Babar had continued the way he did, that would have added 20 more which could’ve given us a win in that game. That was the only time I was fairly hard on him.”