The International Cricket Council (ICC) has declared Pakistan skipper Babar Azam as the ODI Cricketer of the Year for his spectacular performance in the calendar year 2021.
Apart from Azam, the ICC had nominated Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, South Africa’s Janneman Malan, and Ireland’s Paul Stirling for the award.
This is the third consecutive honour for Babar as ICC had earlier picked him as the captain for ODI Team of the Year and T20I Team of the Year.
In his acceptance speech, the skipper thanked fans, family, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the ICC, and his team for supporting and boosting his morale.
Babar said he believed his best knock in the year was against England at Edgbaston, which was also his career-best.
“I was actually struggling there, but that knock gave me a lot of confidence,” he said.
On the South Africa tour, Babar praised the performances of Fakahar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, and did not leave himself out.
“My aim is to score runs in every country and at the home of the opponents. It was my goal and that series [against South Africa] was quite helpful for us,” he added.
Babar might have played only six ODIs in 2021, but he made vital contributions to the two series that Pakistan played this year.
He was the second-highest run-scorer with 228 runs and was the player of the match in both of Pakistan’s wins in the 2-1 series victory against South Africa. The architect of Pakistan’s chase of 274 in the first ODI, Babar made a century and laid the foundation with an 82-ball 94 in the final ODI where the visitors posted 320 runs.
He was the lone warrior for Pakistan when they were swept by England 3-0. He accumulated 177 runs in three games but found no support none of the other batters managed to score more than 100 in the series.
Babar’s best performance this year came in a losing cause in the final ODI against England.
With the series already lost, Pakistan were playing for pride as well as crucial ICC Cricket World Cup Super League points in the third ODI at Birmingham. Put in to bat first, Pakistan posted 331, with Babar scoring close to half of the team’s runs.
Walking in to bat early in the innings, Babar strung a 92-run stand with Imam-ul-Haq to bail Pakistan out of trouble. He was cautious in his approach initially, bringing up his half-century in 72 balls. He made up for it by bringing up the next fifty runs in just 32 balls – it was his second ODI century of the year.
With the milestone out of the way, he exploded in the death overs and almost batted through the innings, getting out in the last over for 158, his highest-ever ODI score.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, James Vince and Lewis Gregory stole the show with a stunning 129-run stand for the sixth wicket as England chased the total down with two overs to spare.