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Pakistan v England 2022

How will Babar Azam respond to a rare slump in form?

by Wisden Staff 2 minute read

After run after run, century after century, Babar Azam’s incredible 2022 encountered a bump at the Asia Cup.

The Pakistan captain hit 68 runs in six matches at an average of 11.33, while striking at 107.93. That’s his second-lowest average in a T20I series or tournament, marginally better than when he averaged 9 against Bangladesh in three T20Is last year.

The tournament served as a stark contrast to Babar’s year up to that point, across formats.

In Test cricket, his five appearances have resulted in 661 runs at an average of 73.44, including two hundreds, one of them a career-best 196 to save the Test against Australia at Karachi. In ODIs, the record becomes even more remarkable. In nine ODIs, Babar has reached fifty eight times, his 678 runs coming at an average of 84.87. At one stage this year – across series against Australia and the West Indies – Babar reached fifty in nine consecutive international innings. Even after his streak was broken, with a score of 1 in an ODI against West Indies in June, he bounced back with knocks of 119 and 55 in a Test win over Sri Lanka.

Prior to the Asia Cup, Babar had played only one T20I this year, against Australia, scoring 66. Now, however, his T20I record this year is perhaps the one concerning aspect of his game, with his average this year sitting at 19.14 after seven matches. The lowest he has averaged across a full calendar year in T20Is is in 2021 with 37.56.  Beyond his average, his strike rate has also come under the scanner in the shortest format, as well as his partnership up top with Mohammad Rizwan, another player known to bat deep in T20s.

Only two pairs have hit more runs together in men’s T20Is than the Rizwan-Babar combination; their 34 innings have produced 1,641 runs at an average of 49.72, including six century stands. Nonetheless, the case has been made – by former Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur during the Asia Cup – for the two to be broken up at the top of the order.

“I think they should [split up Babar and Rizwan],” Arthur said to ESPNcricinfo’s T20 Time Out when he argued for Fakhar Zaman to be promoted. “It’s different angles – you’ve got a left-hand, right-hander. Fakhar hits the ball in different areas, it flusters the bowlers just a little bit, particularly when you set. When you chase you know exactly what you’ve got to do because the scoreboard tells you [what] to do.”

With Fakhar currently injured and only a reserve for the upcoming T20 World Cup, that exact move is out of the picture; left-hander Shan Masood, however, could be a straight swap for Fakhar if Pakistan take heed of Arthur’s advice. For now, however, Babar’s focus – regardless of his position in the batting order – will be to return to form in the upcoming seven-match T20I series against England.

In recent years, his white-ball form against the English has, even by his lofty standards, been excellent. In seven T20Is against England since the start of 2019, Babar has hit 260 runs at an average of 43.33 – only slightly above his career average of 42.36 – but at a strike rate closing in on 143, 14 more than his career record. He’ll be hoping to reach similar heights when the opening T20I begins on Tuesday at Karachi.

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