Australia v Pakistan Tests - Men
Brilliant Babar passes his ultimate Test
The star Pakistan batsman erased any doubts over his potential as a Test player with a standout series against Australia in a tour of few positives for his team
3 December 2019, 09:54 PM AEST
Pakistan star Babar Azam arrived in Australia for the Domain Test series with a point to prove – and passed with flying colours.
While Babar’s limited-overs credentials were never in doubt – he is the No.1-ranked batsman in T20Is and third in ODIs – there were question marks over his ability in the longest format after he scored only 68 runs at 11.33 in six innings Down Under in the 2016-17 tour.
Pakistan were beaten by an innings in both Tests, but Babar’s performances were outstanding as the 25-year-old punched out 210 runs at 52.5 for the series after scoring 115 runs at 57.5 in the preceding T20I series.
Babar, who also led his country’s T20I side for the first time, adopted a cautious approach, weathered the pressure of Test cricket and displayed a strong defence. While Pakistan’s losing streak in Tests in Australia soared to 14 matches and they dropped all three T20 matches, Babar’s challenging run three years earlier steeled him to succeed against the home side.
“Three years ago, I didn’t have much experience. You gain it by playing at international level,” Babar told cricket.com.au.
“You study yourself and your opponents. The mistakes I made in the first year were in my mind and I worked on those.
“I have been to Australia before, so I had an idea about the bounce and conditions here. In a week before this tour, I practiced to manage the bounce. Then the practice games here helped me a lot.
“Every ground here has a different wicket – like in Adelaide the pitch was little slow but in Brisbane it was fast.”
Babar made contributions of 104 in Brisbane and 97 in Adelaide, proving he had learned from his past mistakes as he looked a completely different batsman compared to his previous tour of Australia.
He also plundered an unbeaten 157 last month in a tour against an Australian A team featuring Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson and Sean Abbott in their bowling ranks. Babar endured a challenging start to his Test career, scoring just 475 runs from his first 11 matches at 23.75.
In 12 Tests from the start of 2018, he has scored 970 runs at 51.0, underlining his rapid improvement. But performances in countries like Australia carry extra weight when judging a player’s calibre,making it important for Babar to prove his worth.
“The confidence that you get from scoring runs in Australia is something that maybe you don’t get anywhere else,” he said.
“Australia also have a top bowling attack. You gain lot of confidence if you are scoring runs against the bowlers like (Mitchell) Starc, (Pat) Cummins and (Josh) Hazlewood. You have to pass many phases and that teaches you how to bat with patience.”
Babar appears to have developed a rivalry with Hazlewood during his short career, with the pair first locking horns in the Under-19 World Cup Final in 2010.
Babar scored only 16 runs off Hazlewood at the cost of four dismissals in the 2016-17 series.
Although Hazlewood got him out two times again this time, Babar managed to score 53 runs against the accurate right-armer.
“Hazlewood maintains an extremely good length when he is bowling,” Babar said.
“He consistently bowls at the same length and makes a good use of the crease too. He is just too consistent and does not lose his length. He knows where to bowl.”
Babar is also an admirer of Justin Langer, the former Australian Test opener and incumbent coach.
Babar and Imam-ul-Haq were seen having a lengthy - and light-hearted - conversation with Langer during the post-match presentation ceremony in Adelaide.
“I asked Langer couple of things. I asked him how he used to bat in his time and how he used to handle the pressure,” Babar said.
“He is a legend and played lot of cricket for Australia. He shared many things with me which I can use to my advantage. I will try to pick his suggestions and apply on my batting.”
Babar is undoubtedly Pakistan’s leading batsman across all formats and he could soon be rated alongside modern-day greats such as Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root if he continues his run-scoring feats, with the club of batsmen known as the ‘Fab Four’ among cricket fans.
While Babar waved away any comparison to the greats, his target always has been to compete with the best.
“I don’t think comparison is valid at this stage. I haven’t played much, while the other players have played quite a lot. I have only played 23 Tests and (74) ODIs,” he said.
“When I started cricket, my goal was to compete with the best. I wanted to do well for my country and to be among the top five batsmen in the world.
“My mindset was to compete with the 4-5 best batsmen in the world. You can produce good performances, but to maintain consistency you need lot of hard work.”
Babar is averaging 50-plus in all three formats in international cricket in the last two years and he will be of immense importance for Pakistan in their upcoming series against Sri Lanka.
Pakistan have fallen to eighth in the ICC Test Rankings after losing six straight matches and have zero points in the World Test Championship.
The series against Sri Lanka starts next week in Rawalpindi and will mark the first Test tour to Pakistan by any team in over ten years, with Babar set to play Tests at home for the first time in his career.
There will be 120 points at stake for the Test Championship and then another 120 in the next home series against Bangladesh.
For Pakistan there is a realistic possibility of getting 240 points by the end of the season, and they will be relying heavily on Babar for more runs.
“I am really excited to see Test cricket coming back to Pakistan,” he said.
“I will try to continue my form against Sri Lanka…I want to score more and more runs for Pakistan.”