The temptation, I assure my readers, was huge to name this, my first ever article on the man I identified in his U19 days as potential legend material, and have been proud of as a fan ever since, “Babar Azam: An Ode to Perfection”.
I can even interpret it in two ways.
Babar himself, in his game, is as a poet who honours a language by choosing it as his medium of expression. Babar’s batting is an ode to batting itself; as it SHOULD be, in the eyes and ears of every addict of watching round objects flirting with grass and hearing a sound of timber sweeter than the most mellifluous church bells.
The obvious one is pardonably enjoyable praise of the most beautiful wielder of willow since Inzy bowed out. The other way I see it, is that Babar himself, in his game, is as a poet who honours a language by choosing it as his medium of expression. Babar’s batting is an ode to batting itself; as it SHOULD be, in the eyes and ears of every addict of watching round objects flirting with grass and hearing a sound of timber sweeter than the most mellifluous church bells.
I remember first discovering his existence, and also discovering who his big cousins are. I remember being worried, even as I saw him continue to act responsibly, until one interview where he implied that he had not learnt his cricket from them, but on his own, and that his path had been a long, arduous, and personal one, with no credit to those who hold more sway than is tolerable for the health of the game in Pakistan. In fact, it became clear that he is charting his own path, at his own pace, and that he is his own harshest critic, which brings me to my actual reason for writing about him.
Time went on and it became clear that Babar is one of those who has both the work ethic, quiet determination, and level-headed temperament of an Azhar Ali, and the alluring beauty of an Inzamam-ul-Haq.
Time went on from back when we waited in anticipation and bated breath for him to receive the revered caps, and then for him to mark a promising beginning, the kind which so many batsmen in Pakistan have marked before falling down the wayside, or at least failing to realise even half their potential, despite considerable ability. Yet the hope and the faith kept building that we are not witnessing Imran Nazir or Yasir Hameed or Salman Butt or Ahmed Shehzad, or even the hard grafters Taufiq Umar and Imran Farhat, who had started out with such a fool-proof opening partnership back in 2003 at home against the Proteas.
Time went on and it became clear that Babar is one of those who has both the work ethic, quiet determination, and level-headed temperament of an Azhar Ali, and the alluring beauty of an Inzamam-ul-Haq. Even more importantly, he seems to have the match-winning ability of an Inzaman; the ability to hang in there, continuing to play all the shots in the book, calm and unflustered no matter what his partners choose to do to him, as Marius amidst the ruins of Carthage, a situation we all-too-often encounter.
Time went on and the praise and adulation and the (in my opinion unfair and inconsiderate) comparisons just kept piling up. Time went on and one by one almost anyone who was anyone in the global cricket fraternity, had spoken what we all knew: that Babar has legend ability. Faf du Plessis of South Africa is a recent example, and every-time a comparison IS drawn, it garners respect for our prodigy.
Time went on and one by one almost anyone who was anyone in the global cricket fraternity, had spoken what we all knew: that Babar has legend ability.
Yet, sometimes I wonder if Babar Azam believes as much in Babar Azam as the whole world does. No, I do not mean it in the most obvious sense. Babar backs his batting ability and always has. That is what becomes the difference between legends and merely talented individuals. So far as batting alone is concerned, for all his sometimes slightly anxious-looking expression, he has what it takes. Without backing himself, he would still be able to score hundreds at will. Winning matches though; going that final distance, scoring that 111 instead of a 100, or 70 instead of a 60, as it is those last 10 or so runs that become the difference, THAT would be akin to a game of chance, if he failed to do so. Those who have watched Inzy finishing off tough matches, one of the most memorable being an ODI against India at Ahmedabad in 2005, KNOW what defines a finisher, and most of us believe that Babar does have that quality.
However, does he yet fully believe in himself as a Captain? This is not a criticism, because I truly believe that it takes time and patience and continued support both from the management and the fans, to build a great captain. An Imran Khan is rare, because it was the very qualities that a Captain most needs that he had already employed in becoming first a top-class pacer and then an all-rounder. He himself attributes his success, not as a Captain, but before that, even as a player, to sheer doggedness and unending faith in his own destiny. Therefore he probably had all the self-belief required, even before becoming Captain. Generally though, it takes time to build it up.
An Imran Khan is rare, because it was the very qualities that a Captain most needs that he had already employed in becoming first a top-class pacer and then an all-rounder.
Babar, with some help, had converted a (possibly unnecessarily) tricky situation against a team that by winning, had the ability to seriously hurt Pakistan, into a calm cruise. A cruise toward an easy victory. Somehow, choppy waters chose to make another appearance. Musa Khan succeeded in getting a tie. Pakistan ran into a phenomenon she doesn’t really like at all: the super-over. Yet surely this was not difficult. All Babar needed to do, was appear himself and bring along two of Khushdil Shah, Wahab Riaz, and Musa Khan, not because of any abilities on paper but because these were the players who had proven to be in hitting form, right there, right then. Musa may just be a tailender, though he HAD hit the shot that had earned the tie. He was at least at that precise point in time, capable of hitting the ball and hitting it hard. Wahab is an old and seasoned campaigner and he was in good nick again.
Babar himself, the captain, needed to just lead from the front and take his pick of partners from those with most recent form regardless of overall ability. Why? Because this was one over. Just one over. Babar at his slowest possible, which isn’t very slow anyway, would have made at least 6 runs. He would have made 6 runs that is, if he encountered not even one slightly loose ball. He is after-all, the maestro of textbook hitting who often doesn’t even need to take calculated risks. The other two could help by trying to muscle the ball away. The plan was foolproof surely. When Shaheen later appeared to defend what was nearly zero, it was clear he might have been able to defend even 6 runs, had he got them to play with. Yet Babar for a reason known best only to himself, chose NOT to believe in the man the whole cricketing fraternity and a room full of legends believes in: namely himself. Babar chose not to appear.
Babar at his slowest possible, which isn’t very slow anyway, would have made at least 6 runs. He would have made 6 runs that is, if he encountered not even one loose ball.
Back in the early days of T20, just before it had started to seem like a format invented solely for Pakistan’s exclusive pleasure, a domestic tournament was happening and Muhammad Yousuf made an observation. He said: yes this is T20 but that does not mean you go berserk. You play as you would in any situation. You avoid throwing away your wicket, just as you normally would. If you don’t abandon the basics, you will succeed in this format too. Time has proven him right. Yes, T20 has introduced lots of new shots and risks are taken more than in ODIs, BUT said risks still have to be calculated risks, as opposed to dumb ones. Even in T20, jumping into the proverbial well will have the same result as it does in ODIs.
T20 has introduced lots of new shots and risks are taken more than in ODIs, BUT, said risks still have to be calculated risks, as opposed to dumb ones. Every risk has to be a calculated one.
Every risk has to be a calculated one, preferably with at least 60% chance of success. Below that, and it is sheer recklessness. The threshold might be higher in longer formats, but it can never truly disappear. A super over cannot and DOES not mean, just do anything that comes into your head. In fact, BECAUSE it is just one over, it is easy to calculate the risks and make a very accurate projection of what you can achieve. Pakistan should not be tackling super overs like it used to a decade ago and more. It is not difficult, and Babar can and will rectify this in future, because that is Babar. That is what he does. Fixing his own mistakes.
My only concern is that this should not be a symptom of a bigger problem. That this should not be an indication that he simply does not trust himself even though the whole world and his wife does. When calls for the DRS came up, Misbah would sometimes let his bowler have his way, but it was obvious that Misbah knew most of the time whether the review is good or bad. A captain needs to know that, and he also needs to be able to say a firm no, nine times out of ten. For that, he needs to believe in himself first.
Babar can and will rectify this in future, because that is Babar. That is what he does. Fixing his own mistakes.
Captaincy in three formats? On paper, even Imran Khan didn’t have to do it, but in practice, Pakistan doesn’t get nearly enough international cricket, especially Test cricket. On status quo, it may well not be too much of a burden, particularly since Babar has proven his batting is not affected. However, it is time for some self-love, Captain Babar. All of us back you but that is just not enough if you don’t back yourself. Become assertive, in a positive, not an inapproachable way. You will get all the flak. Make sure you get all the authority too. Think the way Imran Khan used to think. He was not just leading the team. He was BUILDING it. He left a team that, but for internal politics and other issues, should have been world beaters for the whole of the 90s and well into the start of the millennium; a team that despite these problems, was known to be a very dangerous foe indeed on the world stage.
it is time for some self-love, Captain Babar. All of us back you but that is just not enough if you don’t back yourself. Become assertive, in a positive, not an inapproachable way.
Once, Captain Babar, you start to think of your responsibilities in that paradigm, you will realise what it is you need to do. Think of Misbah whose appointment no one supported and who was criticised throughout his time, and take heart, because if Misbah could coolly go about his task, so can you, who have so much more support and faith.
Best of luck Skipper!
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