Babar Azam is on a hot streak to rank with the best in history, writes Divy Tripathi.
“The gods themselves cannot recall their gifts.”
Alfred Tennyson presumably wasn’t writing about Babar Azam’s batting when he penned the above, considering his stint as the United Kingdom’s Poet Laureate ended with his death in 1892. But he has still provided an eerily fitting description, for there is something unreal about the way Pakistan’s crown prince bats. There is something faintly unhuman about his impeccable timing, graceful stroke-making and hunger for runs. For the moment, Babar is unmatched.
Pakistan have boasted several great batters, going back to the days of Hanif Mohammad, through Javed Miandad, Inzamam-Ul-Haq and others before Younis Khan broke records aplenty. But a relative scarcity in the last decade or so had left the fans yearning for someone special to back their side’s top-class pace attack. Babar seemingly arrived to answer this call, and is churning out big scores with the regularity to suggest he will one day be considered among his nations best. Against Australia, he became the second-fastest man to reach 4,000 runs (82 innings), beating the likes of Viv Richards and Virat Kohli to the landmark, with only Hashim Amla ahead of him. But plenty of records already are his and his alone.
While Babar’s Karachi epic reasserted his position as a top-class Test batter, it is in ODI cricket where his claim to supremacy is made most clearly. In the second ODI against Australia, Babar became the fastest to 15 tons (83 innings) during his attacking 114 in the second ODI, and then smashed another hundred in the series decider to become the fastest batter to 16 ODI hundreds as well, with Amla a distant 10 innings behind (94 innings to 84).
Babar’s rate of bringing up big scores is second to none. For a minimum of 30 ODI innings, he has the highest percentage of centuries-to-innings batted, at 19.05 per cent. Imam-ul-Haq is the next best at 18.37, while Kohli is third with 17.13. For players with more than 2,000 runs, he has the second-best conversion rate of fifties to hundreds, doing so 47.06 per cent of the time, with the next best being Imam at 45 per cent. Scotland’s Calum MacLeod, with eight hundreds and eight fifties, sits top of the pile. But what truly sets Babar apart is he is just as accomplished at getting to fifty as he is at going big once set. For anyone who has scored over 2,000 ODI runs, Babar has the best ODI batting average of 59.18, the next best being Kohli at 58.07.
Among his countrymen, Babar is already near the top of the tree. He stands second in terms of batters with the most ODI hundreds for Pakistan, with Saeed Anwar leading the list with 20 hundreds in 247 games, and he already has four ODI Player of the Series awards to his name, a mark bettered by only two Pakistan cricketers. This series, Babar managed 276 runs, an impressive tally for a three-match encounter. But it’s also Babar who sits top of most runs in a three-match series, with 360 runs against West Indies in 2016.
Even given his success so far, Babar’s current hot streak stands out. In his last 30 ODI innings, he has scored 1,933 runs with eight hundreds at an average of 74.35 and a strike-rate of 98.62. The only batter who has a more prolific 30-innings stretch is Kohli, who scored 2,229 runs between innings 188-217 at an average of 89.16.
What’s also remarkable is that Babar hasn’t appeared encumbered by taking on the Pakistan capataincy. His average as skipper of 90.20, is the best-ever in ODIs, with a cut-off of 10 innings, almost 18 runs per innings above Kohli (72.65). Still in his early days of ODI leadership, Babar has already helped Pakistan scale great heights, including acing their highes ever ODI chase in the second ODI against Australia.
The 2019 Cricket World Cup witnessed some true Babar magic, with 474 runs, an average nearing 70, and an all-time classic hundred to guide the tensest of chases against eventual finalists New Zealand. But his efforts weren’t quite enough to script a Cornered Tigers march to the trophy, with net run rate seeing them sit fifth in the group stage.
Now Babar has hit peak form, with another World Cup just coming into view. Pakistan will hope the best is still yet to come.
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