It was a night of records for Pakistan’s Babar Azam as his side beat Sri Lanka by 32 runs in the second of the five-match ODI series at Abu Dhabi on Monday.
The 23-year-old scored his second consecutive century in the series after hitting a 133-ball 101 to rescue Pakistan from a precarious position of 101-6 to finish at a challenging 219-9.
Azam had scored 102 in the first ODI during his side’s 83-run win and with Tuesday’s century he has now scored five consecutive tons in the UAE in the 50-over format.
Still only 33-innings old in the one-day game, Azam has come a long way already to establish himself as the best bet to carry Pakistan’s batting in the next decade or so.
The Abu Dhabi ton was the right-hand batsman’s seventh in ODI cricket, making him the fastest to achieve that feat having played only 33 games.
South Africa’s Hashim Amla who himself scored an unbeaten ton in the recently concluded first ODI against Bangalesh, took 41 innings to score seven centuries while Pakistan great Zaheer Abbas had taken 42.
His five consecutive UAE tons make him the first batsman in the world to have done so in a particular country. The previous best was AB de Villiers who has scored four on the trot in India in 2010-11.
Azam’s meteoric rise in Pakistan cricket has been nothing short of extraordinary. Having failed to score a century in his first 15 innings in the 50-over game, the batsman has now scored seven in his last 18 with a resounding average of 75 plus.
Occupying the crucial number three slot in the batting lineup, Azam now averages a stupendous 57.20 in ODI cricket, the second highest among active players with a minimum of 1000 runs.
In comparison, India’s Virat Kohli, considered by many as the greatest limited-overs batsman in the current generation, averages 55.13 though he has played 199 matches as compared to Azam’s 33.
Kohli, who has 30 tons to his name, had scored seven at the age of 23 though he took double the amount of Azam’s innings to get there.
The legendary Sachin Tendulkar had eight centuries to his credit at the same age and only South Africa’s Quinton de Kock can join the former India batting maestro in having more centuries than Azam at the particular stage of their careers.
The South African left-hander had eight tons himself at the age of 23 though he did take 52 innings to achieve the feat.
The Pakistan batsman’s rapid rise is still at an early stage with years of cricket left ahead. If he continues in the same vein, he could very well end up as one of the greatest limited-overs batsman of all time.
He has become a century making machine, converting his 50s into 100s more often than not. In him, Pakistan have a gem of a player on their hands who could wind up shattering countless records as he continues his cricketing journey.
Sri Lanka ended weeks of speculation by agreeing to play the third and final match of the T20 series against Pakistan at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on October 29.
The team will thus return to the venue where their bus was attacked by terrorists in 2009, leaving at least seven players injured.
Two members of that Sri Lankan team who survived the attack – Suranga Lakmal and Chamara Kapugedara – are currently part of the ODI squad. Following the attack, international sides refused to tour Pakistan and the team had to move base to the UAE.
Since 2009, Zimbabwe have been the only team to tour Pakistan, playing five limited-overs games in Lahore in 2015.
Pakistan successfully staged the final of the PSL T20 tournament in Lahore under heavy security this March and then hosted a series against a World XI team featuring top foreign players, again in Lahore, last month.
The Sri Lankan board, in a statement, said the management arrived at the decision after careful consideration.
Shahid Afridi "We dont want the world to think only Lahore is safe, we need to show that matches can be held in rest of Pakistan as well"— Saj Sadiq (@Saj_PakPassion) October 16, 2017
“SLC have evaluated the reports obtained together with the recommendation of the ICC – which successfully conducted the Independence Cup tournament in Lahore fielding a World XI Team – and having been fully satisfied with the stringent security measures in place, the SLC ExCo unanimously decided to play the 3rd T20 in Lahore on the 29th October.
“Accordingly, the selections committee of SLC will finalise a squad of 22 by the 17th October, and announce the final 15 on the 20th October. SLC president, Thilanga Sumathipala who will accompany the team to Lahore, extended his best wishes to PCB chairman Najam Sethi and his board on the occasion of this historic game, which is set to bring back bilateral cricket to Pakistan.”
Up until last season, the Indian team was all about making players feel comfortable inside the dressing room.
With Anil Kumble in charge as coach, the team management made it clear it wanted to inculcate an atmosphere of confidence where players don’t have to worry about their spots in the team when they get injured.
It was normal, in all team sport, for performing players to be laid low by injury only for their replacements to come in, do a good job and take up their position. But the previous Indian set-up was clear that wasn’t going to be the case.
Which is why when Parthiv Patel came into the side during the Test series against England last year for the injured wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha and did a splendid job by hitting two fifties in four innings, he had to make way once Saha got fit as the selectors made it clear the management wants first-choice players to be back in the side whenever fit.
It looked like a perfect formula on paper as players could recover from injuries in peace and also not conceal injuries out of fear of being left out and then forgotten.
This year, that formula seems to have been thrown out of the window. At least in the case of top order batsman KL Rahul. In 2016, the Karnataka batsman was the only first-choice opener across formats. Then injuries started to take their toll.
He was ruled out of the third Test against England late last year after aggravating a forearm injury and then this year, missed out on the entire IPL and Champions Trophy due to a serious shoulder injury.
Before June, Rahul averaged 44 from 17 Tests, 55 in six ODIs and 56 in eight T20s. He is one of only 12 players to have centuries in all three formats.
KL Rahul was a part of both ODI and T20 teams vs Australia, didn’t play a game and now, he’s been excluded for the ODI team. 🤔 #IndvNZ— Aakash Chopra (@cricketaakash) October 14, 2017
But when he regained his fitness for the Sri Lanka tour in August, he was forced to bat in the middle order in ODIs as openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan had taken the world by storm during the Champions Trophy, finishing as the top two run getters in the tournament with more than 300 runs each in five innings.
Rahul played three ODIs in the middle order in Sri Lanka and failed. After that, he was selected for the limited overs matches against Australia but didn’t get to play a single match as the Indians won the rubber 4-1.
And now, Rahul finds himself dropped from the side for the upcoming ODI series at home against New Zealand as the management is now happy with Sharma and Dhawan as the front-line openers, Ajinkya Rahane as the back-up opener and Manish Pandey and Kedar Jadhav in the middle order.
Suddenly, the once first-choice opener doesn’t fit anywhere. Rahul made his name as an opener, was pushed to the middle order, tried out for three games and then basically cast aside.
If the same yardstick had been used in the case of Saha, Patel should have been given an extended run as he is the more accomplished batsman, can bat anywhere in the order and is a dependable gloveman, albeit not as good as Saha. But India gave up on the batting skills of Patel in favour of Saha’s better glovework. By the same parameter, Rahul’s superior technique and higher scoring rate should have put him ahead of at least Manish Pandey, keeping in mind the fact the next world World Cup will be played in England.
Whatever logic the management puts forward, losing out on an all-round top-order talent like Rahul looks like a monumental waste.