One year ago, Babar Azam only had one Test century to his name — the same number as Jason Gillespie.
The cricket world started to take notice of the talented Pakistan player during last year’s Cricket World Cup, when the young batsman smacked 474 runs at a commendable average of 67.71.
But after a stellar eight-month period with the bat, Azam has established himself as one of the sport’s powerhouse players, some touting him as the best batsman in world cricket.
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On day one of Pakistan’s first Test match against England, Azam plundered a classy 69 not out before bad light brought about a premature conclusion to proceedings at Old Trafford.
After a patient start combating the new ball in overcast conditions in Manchester, Azam accelerated following the lunch break to put the visitors on the front foot. He brought up a half century in just 70 deliveries — his entertaining innings including 11 boundaries.
Since the ICC World Test Championship commenced last year, Azam has scored 684 runs at a Bradmanesque batting average of 114. The right-hander’s most recent scores in Test cricket are 104, 97, eight, 102 not out, 60, 100 not out, 143 and 69 not out.
1️⃣1️⃣4️⃣ batting average
7️⃣1️⃣ strike rate
Babar Azam has been lighting up the World Test Championship! 🔥🔥🔥 #ENGvPAK pic.twitter.com/4pEYqWevVm
Speaking on Sky Sports after stumps was called on Wednesday, former England captain Nasser Hussain praised Azam for his flawless technique.
“Pakistan have a world class batsman in Babar Azam,” Hussain said.
“It’s not only his stats but the way he gets them, how elegant a player he is.
“He plays through that off-side beautifully, a lovely driver of the ball, good off the front foot and the back foot. He’s a very, very watchable young man, he really is. Outstanding player.
“I think for Pakistan to win this series, Babar Azam needs to have a good series. If he has a good series, it will be very, very watchable. He is a gun player.”
For years, the dynamic quartet of Steve Smith, Joe Root, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson has been fondly referred to as cricket’s Fab Four.
But Hussain believes it’s time to include Azam on that exclusive list.
“I think it is a real shame and it is in part a consequence of Pakistan playing away from home, playing in the UAE all the time in front of no one, Pakistan hiding in the shadow of Indian cricket, not going over and playing IPL cricket, not playing India,” Hussain said.
Babar Azam has scored five Test centuries for Pakistan.Source:Getty Images
“If this lad was Virat Kohli, everyone would be talking about it but because it is Babar Azam, no one is talking about it.
“They keep going on about the Fab Four, it’s the Fab Five and Babar Azam is in that.”
In fairness, statistics prove why Azam is a worthy addition to the illustrious group — Azam hasn’t only matched the superstar quartet, but has comfortably exceeded their batting average since January 2018.
TEST BATTING AVERAGE SINCE 2018
Babar Azam (PAK) — 68.76
Steve Smith (AUS) — 59.66
Virat Kohli (IND) — 53.29
Kane Williamson (NZ) — 52.58
Joe Root (ENG) — 40.16
Furthermore, the 25-year-old doesn’t have the luxury of regularly playing home matches in familiar conditions — only three of Azam’s 27 Tests have taken place in Pakistan.
Although he currently sits at No. 6 on the ICC Test batting rankings, don’t be surprised if Azam shifts up a couple of spots during this three-match tour of England.
To accentuate his versatility, Azam is also ranked No. 3 on the ODI batting rankings and No. 1 in T20 cricket.
Former England batsman and Fox Cricket commentator tweeted: “Babar Azam is certainly one of the best Test players in the World … love the way he plays.”
Sports reporter Abdul Ghaffar wrote: “That’s the value of having a world class player like Babar Azam in your team, moment Babar arrives all looks settle and clam and even very discipline England bowlers missed their line and lengths.”
Meanwhile, Pakistan journalist Ihtisham Ul Haq bluntly posted: “Babar Azam is the best current batsman in the world.”
Babar Azam hits the ball past Ollie Pope.Source:Getty Images
Unlike Australian maestro Smith — who dances and fidgets at the crease — Azam’s technique is textbook, boasting a cover drive that should be framed and hung at the Smithsonian.
HIGHEST BATTING AVERAGE IN ICC WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP
Babar Azam (PAK) — 114.00
Rohit Sharma (IND) — 92.66
Abid Ali (PAK) — 84.25
Marnus Labuschagne (AUS) — 83.26
Steve Smith (AUS) — 73.42
* Minimum 250 runs qualification
Azam is not yet a household name, but undeniably will be in the coming years. Former Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur shared a touching story about the batting prodigy in February last year.
“Babar Azam is among the five most talented batsmen in the world. Do you know he sends every penny of his income home – most of them do. Until last year he drove a beaten up Honda,” Arthur said.
“Then, one night round the family dinner table, his father made a short speech saying how much honour his son had brought to the family and how they loved him. Whereupon he gave Babar a set of car keys and outside the door was a brand new white Honda.
“Babar is so proud of it. I mean, a Honda – and Chris Lynn, who will never play a Test match in his life, drives round Brisbane in a Lamborghini.”
Pakistan will resume day two on 2/139, with Azam and opening batsman Shan Masood at the crease.
Cricket: A rain affected match meant Pakistan drew with Sri Lanka in their first test match on home soil in a decade. Abid Ali and Babar Azam both celebrated centuries.
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