Quicker-scoring and more consistent – Azam Khan is ready to take the international arena by storm
Azam Khan has played just three T20Is for Pakistan – all in 2021. After a stellar start to 2023, though, he seems ready to take the international circuit by storm, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Just a few months ago, Pakistan defied odds to reach the final of the men’s T20 World Cup, eventually losing to England. Despite that run, it felt that they missed some firepower in their batting line-up, especially in the middle order, in the absence of a hitter who could tee off without having to get set.
Azam, at this point, seems perfect to answer that clarion call. Capable of attacking from the outset, he can hit shots all around the park. His strike rate of 143 across all Twenty20 cricket, combined with an average of 25.19, indicate that he is not afraid of losing his wicket in pursuit of quick runs. That, in the current climate of T20 cricket, is a quality to have.
However, that could also be construed as Azam not being consistent enough and not deciding as many games single-handedly as his talent warrants. There have been question marks over his fitness and keeping too. That he is the son of former Pakistan captain and wicketkeeper Moin Khan has not helped 24-year-old Azam either, for unwarranted accusations of favouritism are never too far away.
This year, though, Azam has changed perceptions. He has scored 506 runs in 2023, despite it only being mid-March – and has got his runs at a strike rate of 161. It is also interesting to note that before 2023, he had struck at more than 130 in a calendar year only once, in his breakout year of 2020.
Back then, not many would have known his preferred strokes or areas, thus allowing him to capitalise. As bowlers prepared better, Azam’s strike rate came down to 130 in 2021 and 128 in 2022. But in 2023, it is clear that he is now a step ahead of the bowlers and can dominate all kinds of bowling.
Azam has been severe against pace this year, striking at 169 and scoring 333 runs. A whopping 256 of these have come in boundaries, amounting to 76.87 percent, which considering he predominantly bats when the fields are spread out, is very impressive. Against spin this year, that strike rate comes down to 141.81 but is a healthy strike rate nonetheless.
Azam’s tally of 506 runs is also his third-best in a calendar year, only behind 2021 and 2022. He averaged 19.53 and 27.76, respectively in those years, though. So, those demanding more consistency had some merit. In 2023, his runs have come at an average of 46, a significant upgrade from his career average: he had not averaged more than 30 in any calendar year.
Not only is he scoring quicker, but he is also not getting out.
That, in many ways, is why the excitement around Azam has reached fever pitch. Almost everyone of aware of his immense talent and array of amazing strokes. Now, they are beginning to believe that he can do so on a regular basis. More importantly, Pakistan believe that he has what it takes to be successful at the highest level, hence, his inclusion in the squad to face Afghanistan in three T20Is later this month.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Azam Khan will be able to replicate his Twenty20 exploits on the international stage. But he just feels ready to take the world by storm. At least, a lot readier than he has ever seemed.