Babar Azam Set to Play 100th ODI Matches
Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam is set to play his 100th ODI on Sunday in the fifth PAK vs NZ ODI at National Bank Cricket Arena in Karachi.
Since making his ODI debut for Pakistan against Zimbabwe in Lahore nearly eight years ago, Pakistan captain Babar Azam has had an impressive career. The prolific batter has recently become one of the most successful batters.
Since April 2, 2022, he has topped the ICC ODI Batting Rankings, and he currently holds the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year and the ICC Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year award, the latter of which is his second in as many years.
When Pakistan and New Zealand head out for the final match of their five-match ODI series on Sunday afternoon at the National Bank Stadium, Babar, the fastest batsman to 5,000 runs in the format, will conclude 100 matches.
Before the historic match, the 28-year-old stroke-maker reflected on his illustrious ODI journey. Babar Azam also discussed the hard work he had put in since his first exposure to official cricket at the regional under-15 level and his emotions when he was first summoned up to the national team.
“It was an entirely distinct sensation. There was some speculation that I would be chosen, but when I received the phone call, there was great enthusiasm. I was seated with my family, which brought them joy. When I entered the Gaddafi Stadium as a Pakistan cricketer, I reflected on my previous visits as a ball puller and a net bowler before Inzamam-ul-haq’s final Test match against South Africa.
“After my first season, I was not selected for the national academy for top performers because my performances were not up to par. That’s when I began to set objectives for myself, and my first goal was to join the group, for which I worked hard day and night. I used to depart for training at 11 a.m. and remain on the field until sunset.”
The captain of Pakistan then described how, during challenging periods in his life, he was separated from his family and how their support enabled him to reach the pinnacle.
“My paternal uncle and I were very close, and when he passed away, I was on tour with Pakistan U19 in South Africa. He was always responsible for caring for and repairing my bats. I lost my maternal grandmother during a soccer match in Islamabad. I could not attend the concluding ceremonies because I could not locate a bus to Lahore.
“My voyage has not been without sacrifice. But I am fortunate to have a supportive family. My mother bought me my first cricket bat and equipment, which I used for two to three years. My father has had a significant impact on my existence. His insistence that I never become complacent keeps me ravenous and focused. My siblings are always there for me in times of difficulty.
Babar Azam stated that his three consecutive centuries against the West Indies in the United Arab Emirates were the turning point in his career and gave him confidence.
Regarding the 2016 series, he stated that although he had a solid start to international cricket, scoring five half-centuries in his first 15 ODIs, he could not convert the starts into significant scores. The presence of then-head coach and current team director Mickey Arthur helped him develop into a reliable stroke-maker.
“I’d like to mention Mickey because he was instrumental in my metamorphosis. As a cricket player, there is a sense that if you are not up to par, you may be dismissed from the team, but he gave me the confidence to perform well. He encouraged me to give my all to the team and not fret about being cut, a tremendous aid. He did this with every player on the team, which is why we presently have eight to nine individuals from that group on the team.”
Babar Azam assumed national team leadership in 2019, and the added responsibility has inspired him to perform at a higher level. While remaining at the peak of his game, he has also been able to inspire team performances. During the interview, Babar had the highest ODI average among players who have captained their country in at least 20 ODIs, scoring 73.72. The guiding principle is direct communication with participants and acceptance of responsibility.
“As Pakistan captain, the first year was a little overwhelming, as there were many tasks to contend with simultaneously. However, I learned how to deal with that. I learned much from Saifi bhai’s [Sarfaraz Ahmed] team management. I used to observe his demeanor on and off the field and ask him helpful inquiries.
“The most critical aspect of leading a team is providing clarity to every member and communicating with them honestly and openly. This fosters a positive team environment and brings everyone closer together. As a captain, you have a dual responsibility because, as a non-captain, you only concentrate on your fielding and batting, whereas as a captain, you must also manage the team. I appreciate accepting responsibility because it brings out the best in me.
What is the next objective he has set for himself as an athlete who is already regarded as one of the greatest the nation has produced and has received numerous accolades throughout his legendary career?
“It would be great to captain a World Cup-winning team,” he said.
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