Hamilton, Nov 27: It’s tough to pass a torch when rain keeps threatening to douse the flame.
But when the sun was out in Hamilton on Sunday, young batsman Babar Azam showed he’s poised to assume major responsibility for the Pakistan batting line-up.
With Misbah-ul-Haq, 42, and Younis Khan – who will turn 39 on Tuesday – destined to step down from the test arena shortly, the No 2-ranked test side have to find new talent to keep them at the forefront.
In Babar, they appear to have promoted someone who is taking to test cricket in the same manner he has to the one-day format.
The 22-year-old Babar produced a wonderful innings as the visitors tried to fight their way back into contention in the second and final test of the series against New Zealand.
When Pakistan resumed at 76-5 on Sunday morning, trailing by 195 runs, there was a ponderous weight on the youngster’s shoulders – Pakistan’s current tail is not noted for boisterous wagging.
And while his initial partner – jaunty wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed – went after the home side’s bowling with the insatiable hunger of a man desperate for a full breakfast after a big night previous, Babar carried his burden with ease.
He drove with fluency and control, was equally at ease on the back foot and employed a sound defence when not ticking the score over. He reached 90 off 196 balls and was crestfallen when No 11 Imran Khan couldn’t leave a leg-side short one from Southee that he tickled to a diving BJ Watling, leaving Babar 10 short of a maiden test ton.
It was still the highest score by any player to date in the two-test series and the slender right-hander appears to be a genuine talent capable of going on to great things.
He earned praise from New Zealand’s Tim Southee, who took 6-80 as New Zealand grabbed a 55-run first innings advantage.
“He played very well. He looked pretty good in Christchurch as well,” Southee said.
“He’s had a great start to his young career. It’s very promising for Pakistan to have a young batsman like that coming through – obviously he’s got world-class batsmen in Misbah and Younis that I’d imagine he’s learning from.
“For a guy to come here in his first test tour to New Zealand and play the way he’s played, it’s good signs that he can play in conditions that are foreign to them. He’s got a pretty simple technique and method to his game.”
Babar’s test call-up last month to face the West Indies in the UAE came on the back of some superlative run-scoring in one-day internationals this year. He has scored 886 runs in 18 ODIs at an average of 52.11 and with a strike-rate of 94.
In the recent one-day series against the West Indies, he set a new record for most runs in a three-game series, with his 360 surpassing that of South Africa’s Quinton de Kock, who compiled 342 against India in 2013. Like de Kock, Azam made centuries in all three matches – 120, 123 and 117.
His test debut came in a pink-ball test against the Windies and made scores of 69 and 21, before his first test outing in New Zealand could merely see him add seven and 29 in Christchurch in Pakistan’s defeat.
His first-class form is also an indication that he should quickly excel at test level, with an average of 41.13, and he’s been long tagged as a future star, having represented his country at under-15, u-19 and u-23 level.