While Pakistan return empty-handed from Australia after a chastening defeat in the Test series, Babar Azam can hold his head high after a tour where his red-ball credentials soared to new heights.
The 25-year-old had an extremely poor series with the bat during his last tour of Australia (2016-17), but was one of the rare bright spots for the team this time around in what was an otherwise woeful display by Pakistan.
The right-hander registered the second Test ton of his career in the series opener in Brisbane and came agonisingly close to making it back-to-back hundreds in Adelaide before falling for 97. It could very well go down as the tour where Babar came of age in Test cricket and it is a view shared by many, including Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali.
“This series definitely will be the breakthrough he (Babar) wanted,” the Pakistan captain said after his side’s 2-0 Test defeat.
“If you score in tough conditions against tough bowling attacks, it gives you the extra boost and the belief that you can make even better strides in Test cricket.”
The Pakistan batting prodigy has already established himself as one of the very best in the limited-overs formats, with his current ODI and T20I averages of 54.17 and 50.17 respectively a testament to his white-ball prowess.
However, prior to the recent series, the consistency and big knocks had largely eluded him in the Test format despite his immense promise. Slowly, yet surely, those doubts are now being erased with Babar starting to prove that he has the chops for the most revered format of the game.
The signs were there when he registered a fine 71 against a formidable South Africa attack at the Centurion earlier this year, and they have only been emboldened by his latest displays in Australia against an equally strong, if not better, bowling unit.
A trio comprising of the No1 ranked Pat Cummins, the unwaveringly consistent Josh Hazlewood and the explosive Mitchell Starc can be a nightmare to handle for any batsman, especially in their own backyard.
Yet, in both his knocks of 104 and 97, Babar was completely on top and in total command against that attack before his eventual dismissals. He now exudes an authority at the batting crease which only few batsmen in the world boast of, and he will no doubt return as a more complete and accomplished batsman from his sojourn Down Under.
The parallels between him and India superstar Virat Kohli have been drawn already. Though there exists a vast gap between their respective experience and runs under the belt, the comparisons are not really unfounded given the striking similarities in their playing style.
Babar Azam might have missed a century but unlike a few others in recent times, Pakistan have the real deal. You never can tell the future but yes, he will become a special player.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) December 1, 2019
Kohli is already on the verge of establishing himself as one of the greatest batsmen to grace the game and there is a long, long way for Babar to go before he can be spoken of in the same breath. However, his baby steps are now turning into giant strides and excellence on a consistent basis could soon become the norm after what we have seen in Australia.
In Kohli, Babar has the perfect role model with regards to how far he can stretch his undeniable talents, and he will hope the Australia career will provide him with a similar springboard like the India man.
Seven years ago, Kohli was still a Test novice when India toured Australia. The right-hander endured a wretched tour of the country before registering an excellent ton in Adelaide in the final Test. That ton came in a 4-0 series win for Australia, but it was arguably what transformed Kohli into the run-scoring machine he is now in Test cricket.
Babar can take similar inspiration from his displays in Pakistan’s crushing loss, and start to fulfill his true potential. It is a sentiment he himself agrees with, and it could turn out to be the one positive for Misbah-ul-Haq’s men from a horrendous tour.
“The confidence that you get from scoring runs in Australia is something that maybe you don’t get anywhere else,” Babar told cricket.com.au in an interview after the series.
“Australia also have a top bowling attack. You gain lot of confidence if you are scoring runs against the bowlers like Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood.
“You have to pass many phases and that teaches you how to bat with patience.”
Pakistan’s loss, could very well be Pakistan’s gain, with Babar starting to become the man they always wanted him to be.
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