Ben Stokes did the physical damage, but it was Babar Azam who was at fault. He took his eyes off a bouncer from Stokes and got hit on the left wrist at Lord’s in May this year. The Pakistan batsman suffered a fracture and he was ruled out for the rest of the series. Azam returned after six weeks and hit an unbeaten 106 against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo, coming at No. 3. Now he is set for the Asia Cup.
Last year, during an interview with The Indian Express, Zaheer Abbas had described Azam as the future of Pakistan batting. Pakistan had been going through transition in Test cricket following the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. Abbas picked Azam as the team’s next batting star across formats. While Azam is yet to assert himself in the longest format, his white-ball numbers often draw a comparison with Virat Kohli’s. Azam is the only batsman in international cricket at the moment to have 50-plus averages in both white-ball formats. In 46 ODIs so far he has 1,973 runs at 54.80 and eight hundreds. In T20 internationals, he is averaging 53.00.
There is a very long way to go before he can be considered in the same league as Kohli. The India captain has, after all, 58 centuries, Tests and ODIs combined. He has 50-plus averages in Tests and ODIs over 71 and 211 matches respectively. But the promise is there. It can safely be said that Azam could be Pakistan’s Kohli-in-the-making if he doesn’t lose his way.
The 23-year-old Lahorite exudes simplicity. He was almost self-effacing when he turned up for media duties after a roasting practice session in the Dubai heat at the ICC academy on Saturday. But his soft-spoken manner belied the steel. “Whenever I walk out to bat, I focus on batting till the end. I back my strength, which is self-confidence,” Azam said, crediting coach Mickey Arthur for his steady progress. With Kohli missing from the Indian team, Azam hoped his team would capitalise on that.
“It will make a difference, for Virat Kohli is a huge match-winner. Also, he is in great form. I think his absence can give us an advantage.” The Asia Cup format is exciting enough to have three India-Pakistan matches if the two giants reach the final. So it could be a triple whammy amid the bilateral void. “It’s a challenge. We don’t play against each other pretty often. So it becomes challenging, when the two sides meet in important tournaments,” he asserted.