Babar Azam’s Test ‘breakthrough’ the big positive – Azhar Ali

Pakistan

Babar Azam‘s graduation to the top rank of Test batsmen, via a superb century in Brisbane and an equally stirring 97 at Adelaide Oval, which earned him a standing ovation, was a rare ray of light for Pakistan through the murk of a 2-0 series thrashing at the hands of an opposition more battle-hardened than them.

Pakistan’s captain Azhar Ali spoke happily of Babar’s displays, which began with a century against Australia A in the pink-ball warm-up match in Perth, as of the kind that would allow the 25-year-old to head home believing he was ready to be more consistently dominant at the Test level. Australia has, in the past, provided formative moments for the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Jacques Kallis, the anvil on which their games have been shaped and perfected before later feats elsewhere.

“He’s been tremendous in white-ball cricket and in the recent past, he’s been gradually building up his Test stats as well,” Azhar said of Azam. “But this series definitely will be the breakthrough he wanted. We were all hopeful that he’ll do it. He’s a good enough player. We all know that. But sometimes 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.

“That’s been a big positive now for us that Babar has stamped himself a Test player. He’s been fantastic throughout the year and he’s been lovely to watch and hopefully he can continue this form in the Tests that are coming.”

“Most importantly, ‘A’ team tours and Under-19 tours are very important. Players who come here more often and play in these conditons will benefit from that”

Azhar Ali

Similarly, Mohammad Rizwan vindicated the decision to move to him as first-choice wicketkeeper by offering plenty with the bat, gloves and with his voice in the field, even if Pakistan’s bowlers and fielders were unable to maintain the pressure they needed to.

“He’s been performing in first-class cricket for a few years now. And then he had a fantastic couple of ‘A’ tours in Dubai. And then he played against Australia in one-day cricket and scored centuries there as well,” Azhar pointed out. “He’s been waiting and obviously Sarfaraz [Ahmed] is another one who’d been performing really well for Pakistan. We have a very healthy competition.

“Rizwan waited for his chance and then grabbed it with both hands. The way he batted at Gabba and the way he kept wickets in both games has been fantastic. His energy is always good for the team, whenever we were down in the field, he kept us up. That’s fantastic for any team. He’s a team man.”

Those efforts were, of course, overshadowed by a yawning gap between the teams, reflected in the results, something Azhar said was because of the weaknesses in his bowling attack and also the need to play more ‘A’ series in these parts of the world.

“It has been a disappointing series. We didn’t live up the expectations that were based around this young team,” he said. “This was the best possible team we could have picked, especially with regards to the bowling options. But you also have to see that in Australia you need a certain kind of pace attack. And in our domestic cricket, we don’t have those kind of pacers. The moment you have to bowl with a Kookaburra, you need an extra element of pace.

“But we felt that these guys were in the best shape to deal with the conditions here, and that’ll be the case in the future. We shouldn’t get too disappointed about this and keep in mind that young bowlers like these will only play more cricket and get better. We need to show some patience.

“I think, most importantly, ‘A’ team tours and Under-19 tours are very important. Players who come here more often and play in these conditons will benefit from that. Last time and this time, we came here a couple of weeks before the Tests. It gives you a better idea and preparation. You have to consider that always. There won’t be any condition like this in Pakistan. The surfaces are different. It’s the same when Pakistan go to Dubai or Pakistan. They’ve played on hard surfaces and need to adapt to the slower wickets there.

“But Australia has the best batting conditions in the world. There’s even bounce, the cracks don’t open too early in the game. If you get used to bounce and pace, you can see players from Pakistan can score runs. Last time we scored big runs, Asad [Shafiq] and I scored a lot. But to win Test matches we need to take 20 wickets and we need to work out how to do that. And also to score big in the first innings. Get ahead of the game here is very important.”

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