LEEDS: The first lesson Babar Azam learned from his coach was to play the first and last ball of a match, and he showed he had not forgotten that advice during his brilliant hundred against New Zealand.
Babar’s 10th One-day International century at Edgbaston on Wednesday — his eighth in a winning cause — has led to comparisons with Indian maestro Virat Kohli.
Pakistan’s batting coach Grant Flower certainly believes Babar has the X-factor.
“He is very special,” said Flower, after Babar’s unbeaten hundred helped Pakistan chase down a 238-run target for their third win at the World Cup. “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 at 24.
“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 [another Kohli] at some point in the future.”
Kohli currently has a far better record than his Pakistani counterpart, with 41 ODI centuries, and an impressive average of nearly 60 compared with Babar’s mark of almost 53.
But Babar’s stupendous start to his international career suggests he has the ability to match the Indian superstar.
Babar reached the milestones of 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 ODI runs faster than Kohli.
The world’s top-ranked Twenty20 batsman scored five hundreds in his first 25 ODIs, compared to Kohli’s two, although the Indian skipper has since taken his batting to astronomical heights.
On Wednesday, Babar became the second-fastest to reach 3,000 ODI runs, in 68 innings, behind South Africa’s Hashim Amla, who reached the mark in 57.
Babar said the link with Kohli was flattering.
“I watch his batting videos,” said Babar. “He is very consistent and his mindset is very good. He gives 100 percent every time he walks out to bat. My aim is to be the best in the world and perform in each of Pakistan’s wins.”
Babar’s journey to stardom was marked by hard work but driven by passion.
Back in Lahore, Babar would walk four miles every day, in all weathers, to the nets and would be the last to leave the ground.
There, coach Mama Juna spotted his talent and Babar learned the lessons by heart.
He topped the batting averages in under-15 cricket in Pakistan and his talent was refined at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.
Former Test captain Ramiz Raja said Babar deserved to be spoken of in the same breath as the other frontline batsmen at the World Cup.
A cousin of Akmal brothers (Kamran, Umar and Adnan), Babar wants to be the best in the game.
“I keep learning from my mistakes and I take advice from my seniors and the aim is to be the best in the world across all formats,” he said.
Babar has started his career with a bang. He has the talent to take him right to the pinnacle of the game.
Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2019