Babar Azam has made a name for himself in the last couple of years with his strokeplay and consistent scores. A batting average of 53.15 in T20Is is compelling. He endured an underwhelming start to his career in 2015 but is now seen as a level-headed batsman in Pakistan’s top order. Even though his strike rate in T20s has been a talking point in recent times, he scored an unbeaten 97 off 58 balls against West Indies in the second T20I in Karachi, but regretted missing out on a century in front of a home crowd.
Azam was on strike on 89 when Pakistan’s last over started, but he managed only eight runs off the five balls he faced from Kesrick Williams.
“I went with a hundred in sight. That’s why I took a chance, but I wasn’t able to utilise a couple of balls, which is why I missed it,” he said after the match. “I had an experienced man – Shoaib Malik – at the other end, and was coordinating with him if I should take a chance or go for a single or double. I think that is where I lapsed, and I didn’t read a few balls that slowed things down. This is unfortunate for me, but only I am responsible for it. But I have another game tomorrow, and hopefully I can score a century this time.”
Azam recently scored 402 runs in the Pakistan Super League, with the help of five half-centuries, and was the third-highest run-scorer in the tournament. He was promoted in this series to open in place of Ahmed Shehzad, and he pounced on it by smacking 13 fours and a six on Monday night, after scoring 17 in the opening T20. He was often criticised for his slowness and inability to shift gears with the pace of the match, as his strike rate of 122.18 showed in the PSL.
“Runs are runs, even if they are coming off playing cut shots or in front, but it’s not like T20 can only be played with big shots,” he said. “It is not my role to go out and do the power hitting, my job is to play my natural game. There is always a plan, and that is very simple – to lead the game till the end, and my role is to play the anchor while the team plays around me. I know I shift gears, and when power hitting is required, I do it, but mostly, I just try to be myself and play my natural game.”
Azam made it sound simple, but his innings during the second PSL eliminator, against Peshawar Zalmi in Lahore last month, was a major talking point. He had the composure but lacked the acceleration in the end overs. His knock of 63 off 45 balls at No. 3 for Karachi Kings went in vain as they fell short in their chase of 171 by 13 runs despite having eight wickets in hand.
“I do not pay any heed to the negative thoughts, I just go with the plan my team gives me,” he said. “People do talk, but my job is to play cricket with 100% commitment. I also have no concern if I play as an opener or one-down, it’s all about what my team requires and I go with that. There is no pressure as such on me because I have a very strong belief in myself. I know if I have to play all three formats, I have to be fully fit with a positive mindset. Being a batsman, runs are always on my mind, otherwise the tension starts to mount. Playing all three formats is very demanding, and I know I can only do this by keeping myself fit.”
Karachi is hosting international cricket after nine years, and even though Pakistan have clinched the T20I series with a 2-0 lead against a depleted West Indies side, Azam said winning was still important to boost their confidence.
“Wining the series is always very important because it brings a lot confidence in you for the next tour,” he said. “We don’t consider them a weak opponent. They are the world champions, but we are given our plans, and we are just sticking to it and executing them accordingly.
“No doubt, when you play in front of home crowd, it gives you immense confidence. You understand the home conditions very well and have the knowledge about playing at home in domestic cricket which helps you a lot for international games.”