Emulating Virat Kohli is a mere dream for most young batsmen – but Grant Flower believes Babar Azam is well on the path to doing just that after his stylish century downed New Zealand.
Facing an attack that had only conceded 250 once in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2019 to date, Babar showed few signs of nerves as his match-winning knock of 101 saw the Men in Green to a potentially vital victory.
A star performer during the recent bilateral series against England, the 24-year-old has continued his rich vein of form into the World Cup, with his pivotal innings at Edgbaston serving as his first century in the competition.
And with Babar already ranked as the No.1 T20 batsman in the world, batting coach Flower is confident his charge has what it takes to now kick on and join the pantheon of Pakistan greats – most notably because of the way he battled sickness to shine in Birmingham.
“He’s had flu over the last couple of days. Tuesday was the first time I’ve not seen him hit any balls the day before a match,” Flower revealed.
“Confidence-wise, this is definitely his best one (century).
“I’ve seen him get quite a few hundreds on pretty flat wickets, but this was a tough wicket – it was turning, Ferguson was bowling fast and there was a lot of pressure because of the context of the tournament.
“He is very special. I believe he is going to be one of the best that Pakistan have ever produced. He’s really hungry, is fit and still very young.
“I think he’ll have a really good career if he keeps his feet on the ground, which I think he will.
“He’s got Virat’s hunger. I think he could be at some point in the future.
“He’s definitely got that hunger, so if you practice as hard as he does, and you have his skills, I can’t see why he can’t get to the top.”
Trailing current incumbents England by three points heading into the Edgbaston clash, victory over the Black Caps leaves Pakistan well in the hunt for a semi-final berth.
With the gap now just a solitary point and Afghanistan up next, Flower is relishing the opportunity to take Eoin Morgan’s fancied side and put the cat well and truly among the pigeons.
He added: “It’s quite exciting, I think. For the first part of the tournament, it didn’t seem like it was going to be, but now there’s pressure on some of the top teams. It’s good.
“After today, it definitely puts us in a good position. It’s just our net run-rate, and obviously, those first few games didn’t help us.”
The last fixture of round seven of the Cricket World Cup will feature two sides that started the tournament on a similar note but went on to script different fortunes.
While South Africa continued their sorry run with a defeat to Pakistan, the Lankans shocked hosts England and revived their campaign with a crucial win.
The Proteas hence play for pride after being eliminated from the World Cup while Dimuth Karunaratne’s men are expected to go hard at the two points at stake.
A bright day is expected at Chester-le-Street, with rain staying away. We take a look at the talking points ahead of the tie that could support or harm Sri Lanka’s chance at a spot in the semis.
Toe-crushers over six packs
Lasith Malinga has been at the end of criticism for sporting a relatively huge tummy in a picture that has gone viral over social media. But the pacer showed against England that substance matters more than a six-pack ab.
The veteran claimed a four-fer to dismantle England’s top order and later returned later to trouble the tail. The 35-year-old produced one of the best bowling performances of the tournament, given the circumstances.
Come Friday and Malinga will return to torment batsmen with his famous toe-crushing yorkers. The South African batsmen have failed to click in the World Cup and the pacer will be relishing the prospect of adding a few more World Cup wickets under his belt.
Amid criticism regarding his fitness, Malinga has returned to provide the Lankans that glimmer of hope they need to take off and turnaround their World Cup campaign.
Proteas look to salvage pride
Faf du Plessis’ men have had a tournament to forget, failing to win a single game other than the one over bottom-placed Afghanistan. A series of woeful performances saw them out of contention for a top-four spot by the end of round six.
The Proteas will hence play for pride when they take the field at Durham. The batting has been insipid; bowling has been toothless and fielding poor. While there is no overnight solution for the problems South Africa are facing, they could start well with a win over the Lankans.
A strong finish in the World Cup could slightly affect their evaluation of the tournament and provide positive pointers in the rebuilding phase. Hence, the Proteas will be eager to win their remaining games and take something away from the World Cup.
A long way from March
Contrary to their form in the World Cup, South Africa were heavily dominant in the ODI series between the two sides in March. The Proteas recorded a 5-0 white-wash in the ODI series before winning the T20 series 2-0.
However, it seems like we have a come a long way since March and the 1996 World Cup champions now start as favourites. Sri Lanka will hence have revenge on their minds apart from the primary incentive to enter the top-four.
India will bid to edge one step closer to a World Cup semi-final spot when they take on West Indies at Old Trafford on Thursday.
Virat Kohli’s side, unbeaten in the tournament so far, lie third in the table and one point better off than fourth-placed England having played two games less.
The West Indies still have a mathematical chance of a top-four finish and will be determined to keep their hopes alive after their agonising five-run defeat to New Zealand in their last match.
Who will prevail in Manchester?
Find out by following the ball-by-ball commentary below.