Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Of Pakistan's streak and Babar Azam's Sterling Form

Pakistan has now won 7 international matches in a row, a streak that started with the win in the final ODI against England and includes a T20 win against England, 3 T20 wins against West Indies, and 2 ODI wins against West Indies.

Considering that this streak is in white ball cricket, it is even more commendable given the dire straits Pakistan's limited overs teams have been in for the past few years.

Moreover, don't forget that those results include dominating victories over both the World T20 finalists!

For skeptics who will turn around and say that they are only winning in the UAE against a weak West Indies side, let me remind you that the first 2 wins of this 7 match streak came in England, including a first ever chase of a 300+ total outside Asia, while the same "weak" West Indies was just beating Australia and South Africa at home a month and a half ago.

So no, you skeptics cannot take the sweetness away from these wins.

The Pakistan Under-19 Link

The best part about these wins is that the players at the forefront have been Pakistan's newest young crop of talent; the likes of Sarfraz Ahmed, Sharjeel Khan, Babar Azam, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Nawaz, and Hassan Ali.

It is after ages that Pakistan has got a bunch of talented youngsters in their team at the same time.

In the early 90s, we witnessed the likes of Waqar Younis, Aqib Javed, Inzamam Ul Haq, Aamer Sohail, Mushtaq Ahmed, and Moin Khan form a core group of young talent within Pakistan's ranks.

The late 90s saw Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shoaib Malik, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Mohammad Yousuf, and Younis Khan do the same.

Since then Pakistan have sporadically introduced talent, but never in a group like now.

You know the one common link between those stars introduced in the early 90s, late 90s, and now?

Pakistan U19!

Why more U19 players were not drafted in between 2000 and 2015 is anyone's guess!

Babar Azam

The player that has impressed me the most is the youngest of the lot, Babar Azam.

He had a sterling start to his ODI career compiling 5 fifties in his first 10 ODIs. Those knocks came against all comers including Zimbabwe, England, and New Zealand.

He scored 50s on batting friendly pitches in Lahore and the UAE, as well as, in bowler friendly conditions in New Zealand.

The ODI series against England was a disappointment though. He got 30s and 40s and looked extremely good while at the crease, however every single one of his dismissals was a question mark on his temperament. Loose shots, loss of concentration, and recklessness made me think he was another Umar Akmal in the making.

But his last two ODI knocks have been magnificent, and with those he has truly arrived on the big stage.

Back to back centuries in ODIs have placed him among a select few and he has the chance to be in absolute elite company if he can manage another century in the third ODI against the West Indies.

Scoring a ton is not easy, irrespective of how weak the opposition's bowling is. To follow that up with another ton is a sign of greatness. It is so easy to fall into complacency and sit on your laurels.

Babar's first 17 ODIs have produced more runs than anyone who has played for Pakistan before him.

Here is a comparison of where he stands after 17 ODI innings among Pakistani ODI greats and his peers who were once considered the next big thing for Pakistan.

In terms of runs and average in the first 17 ODI innings, no one even comes close to Babar.

His 2 centuries are matched by Inzamam and Ahmed Shehzad, while his 5 fifties are matches by Mohammad Yousuf and Nasir Jamshed. His strike rate is bettered by Nasir and Saeed Anwar.

He is in great company in that table and has given us a lot of promise for the future.

I did a similar comparison of Babar's performance in the first 17 ODIs of his career with other ODI greats and his international peers who are currently dominating ODI cricket.

It is really interesting to note that Babar tops this list too with more runs in his first 17 ODI innings than Kohli, Root, Amla, and Ponting did.

The similarity between Babar Azam's and Virat Kohli's record after 17 ODIs is uncanny.

So many Pakistanis have asked "hume Kohli jaisa batsman kab milega?" ...

Babar hum sab ko jawab de raha hai.

Yes I know that it is really early to compare Babar Azam with the greats. But there is no reason why we can't celebrate the start to his career.

This is a solid platform that he has laid for himself that will eventually lead him to greatness.

He is surely the most exciting batting talent that Pakistan has produced in the past decade and a half.

Yes we said the same about Umar Akmal, Nasir Jamshed, and Ahmed Shehzad; but Babar truly seems like the real deal.

Critics who are saying lets see what Babar can do in foreign conditions, I point them to his 62 and 83 in Wellington and Auckland respectively.

For those who are saying it is too early to compare him with Kohli or for that matter anyone else, I completely agree but it amuses me when the same people say that Imad is better than Afridi and should have been playing many years ago instead of him.

So we can't compare Babar with Kohli but we can compare Imad with Afridi?

Why is it so hard to celebrate our heroes? And so easy to put them down?

Look at what he has achieved and is achieving. Celebrate the feats.

Babar is only 21. There is a long road ahead.

We all know that.

But that should not stop us from celebrating his mega entry on to the world stage.

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