Pakistani captain Babar Azam is all set for the pivotal match against Australia. Tom Moody—former Australian all-rounder who has also served as a coach to the Pakistani team in the T20 Super League—is of the view that Babar will be such a huge star that he will leave behind even Indian skipper Virat Kohli.
“You think Kohli is good, watch Babar Azam bat,” noted Moody last year.
He added, “I put Babar almost in the same category as Kohli. We talk about how Kohli is so easy on the eye as a batsman. But if you think Kohli is good to watch, have a look at Babar Azam.”
Babar Azam was the 15-year-old star who stared down Shoaib Akhtar in the nets and went on to become the highest-ranked T20 batsman in the world followed by attaining the national hero status after leading the team in a record-making victory against India.
Following the sensational win over arch-rivals at the World Cup, Azam has been likened by one commentator to emperor Zahiruddin Babar—the 16th century who founded the Mughal Dynasty.
The self-effacing 27-year-old sportsman still has his feet resolutely on the ground.
He has captained the team to five consecutive wins at the T20 Cup and will be leading the squad on Thursday in a semi-final clash against Australia in Dubai.
To date, he has managed to make tournament-leading 264 runs.
On Sunday, he made his fourth half-century of the tournament against Scotland. The streak started with an impressive unbeaten 68 against India. In tandem with opener Mohammad Rizwan’s 79 not out, that match marked Pakistan’s first win over their fierce rivals in 13 World Cup matches.
He later scored 51 and 70 against Afghanistan and Namibia respectively. A performance that led him to regain the top spot in the international T20 rankings.
Babar remarked, “Obviously it’s a proud moment”.
He added, “The focus on the goal and hard work are behind this and I want to improve day by day.”
Earlier in April, Babar also smashed Indian champion Virat Kohli’s three-year tenure as the number one ODI batsman after scoring 103, 32, and 94 in a three-match series in South Africa leading to Pakistan’s 2-1 win.
Babar has a modest background but has been a YouTube hit at 13.
In 2007, he confidently pouched a six from South Africa’s JP Duminy which had been launched over long-on while acting as a ballboy at Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium.
The replays in slow motion and appreciation from TV commentators who hailed his nonchalance resulted in Babar’s surprise airtime.
Although he was obviously talented, his father Azam Siddique made sure that his teenage son didn’t get too far ahead of himself.
Babar said, “It’s a blessing for me that my father supported me so much”.
He added, “To be honest, he still scolds me if I don’t play well or get out by playing a rash shot.”
Throughout his journey from under-15 to under-19 levels, his stroke play caught the eye.
Mudassar Nazar—former Pakistan opener —was mainly impressed during his tenure as the head of the national cricket academy in 1999.
Babar recalls, “I was in the Under-15 camp and one day they (the national team) invited us for practice and Mudassar was very kind to select me to face Shoaib’s bowling”.
Shoaib Akhtar, famously known as ‘Rawalpindi Express’, bowled the fastest recorded delivery — 161.3 km/h — at the 2003 World Cup.
Babar said, “Shoaib looked surprised but still encouraged me. He told me ‘Kid you have to defend the ball. I will bowl it up”. I drove him after only a few deliveries.
“He got slightly offended and asked for a new ball and bowled a bouncer. I ducked and watching from the side, Mudassar called me back (from out of the nets).”
The now-retired Shoaib recalled the encounter and said, “He was talented then, he is talented now, faced me quite bravely in the nets”.