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T20 World Cup 2021

Babar and Rizwan, the opening partnership of Pakistan’s dreams

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan had a day to remember in Pakistan’s T20 World Cup opener against India, putting on an unbeaten, record partnership to guide their side to an historic 10-wicket win.

But rather than being an out-of-nowhere performance to stun a superpower on the global stage, what was most clear was how this was an effort that had been coming for quite some time. A video posted by the ICC showed Rizwan visualising his innings in the middle before play started, practice making perfect as he smashed India’s vaunted bowling attack all around Dubai. This, truly, was no fluke.

Rizwan and Babar haven’t opened together for all that long, only joining forces for the first time atop the order earlier in 2021. But since then, they have racked up a staggering set of numbers unmatched in the world game.

Their consistency is phenomenal. Among opening pairs with 500 or more runs together, their average stand of 67.30 is the best there has ever been in T20I cricket. Among all pairs, only Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni have a better average stand.

Not only do they deliver seemingly every time they come out to bat together, they are also arguably the best there has been at going properly massive. Rizwan and Babar’s best opening stand of 197, put on against South Africa in April, has been bettered only three times for any wicket. They have put on four century stands (one of which came for the second wicket). No other pair has put on more in men’s T20Is, and those to match them – Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson, and Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan – have each had many more total partnerships than Babar and Rizwan.

Nor do they have to reduce their scoring rate while reducing their risks. The pair have scored at over nine runs an over while opening together. Only six opening pairs (min. 500 runs) have maintained a quicker rate.

The two are astonishing players individually, sitting second and third on the list of highest men’s T20I averages for players with at least 500 runs. Babar has long been anointed as Pakistan’s great batting hope, and while there has been plenty of focus on Joe Root’s attempts to break Mohammad Yousuf’s record for the most Test runs in a calendar year, Rizwan is setting similar records in the shortest format that could take a long, long time to break. Even before the T20 World Cup began, he had broken the record for the most runs in a calendar year, and will have perhaps another six World Cup games and a series against New Zealand to zoom off into the distance. But there is something about the pair batting together, with each bringing the best out of the other.

Still, none of this should take away from just how special their performance against India was. There has only been one higher stand in T20 World Cup history, with Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene putting on 166 against West Indies in 2010, and there has also only been one higher chased without losing a wicket in all T20Is. India have never conceded a higher stand in the format against any team.

And it was all achieved with a grace, poise and style that belied the pressure of the occasion, the weight of the stage and the fixture, and the high-quality bowling being sent their way. With Babar and Rizwan at the top, Pakistan could do anything at the T20 World Cup.

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