Photo Credit: Pakistan Cricket Board
Pakistan captain Babar Azam has had an illustrious career since he made his debut for Pakistan in a One-Day International against Zimbabwe in Lahore almost eight years ago. The prolific batter has transformed himself into one of the most successful batters in recent history. He has been the number-one batter on the ICC ODI Rankings since 2 April 2022 and currently holds the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year and ICC Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year award, the last being his second in as many years.
When Pakistan and New Zealand will walk out for their final meeting of the five-match ODI series at the National Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon, Babar, the fastest batter to 5,000 runs, will complete the century of matches in the format.
Ahead of the landmark match, the 28-year-old exquisite stroke-maker, spoke to the PCB Digital at the team hotel in Karachi on his ODI journey. His interview makes the 46th edition of the PCB Podcast a special one and is available here for viewing and free downloading for editorial purposes only.
Over the years, Babar has become synonymous to discipline, solid technique, consistency and level-headedness, and the right-handed batter revealed this is because of the sheer hard work he has put in since his first exposure to official cricket at the under-15 regional level.
Recalling the moment when he was first called up for the national side, Babar said: “It was a different feeling altogether. There was some talk about me being selected, but when I got the call, there was a lot of excitement. I was sitting with my family and it made them happy. When I entered the Gaddafi Stadium as a Pakistan player, I reminisced my journey of how I used to come here as a ball picker and how I had come here before Inzamam-ul-Haq’s final Test match, which was against South Africa, as a net bowler.
“I was not selected for the national academy for top performers after my first season as an U15 regional player as my performances were not up to the mark. That is when I started to set goals for myself and my first goal was to become a part of it and for that, I worked hard day and night. I used to leave my house for training at 11am and stay in the ground till sunset.”
The road to becoming an international cricketer was full of sacrifices. The Pakistan captain shared how at the poignant moments in his life, he was away from his family and how their support helped him reach the apex level.
“I was very close to my paternal uncle and when he passed away, I was on a tour with Pakistan U19 in South Africa. He always used to take care of my bats and repair them for me. I lost my paternal grandmother when I was playing a match in Islamabad. I could not make in time for the final rituals, as I could not find a bus to Lahore.
“My journey has had its fair share of sacrifices. But, I am glad that I have a family that supports me. My mother bought me my first-ever cricket bat and gear, and I used that bat for good two to three years. My dad has been a great influence in my life. He tells me to be never complacent and that keeps me hungry and focused. My brothers always lend me support in tough times.”
Babar said it was his three consecutive centuries in the United Arab Emirates against the West Indies that turned around his career and gave him the confidence.
Speaking about the 2016 series, he said though his start to international cricket was a good one as he scored five half-centuries in the first 15 ODIs, he was unable to convert the starts into big scores. The presence of Mickey Arthur, the then head coach and now team director, helped him evolve into a reliable stroke-maker.
“I want to mention Mickey as he played an integral role in my transformation. As a cricketer, there’s a feeling that if you are not up to the mark, you might get dropped from the side, but he gave me the confidence. He asked me to give my best to the side and not worry about getting axed from the side and that helped me a great deal. He did not only do it with me but with every player in the side and that is why we have eight to nine players in the side currently from that lot.”
Babar took the reins of the national side in 2019 and the added responsibility has brought the best out of him. While staying at the top of his game, he has also been able to get performances out of the team. At the time of the interview, Babar had the best ODI average of 73.72 for players who have captained their countries in at least 20 ODIs. The mantra behind that is clear communication to players and embracing the responsibility.
“The first year was a little overwhelming as there were a lot of things to deal with simultaneously as a Pakistan captain. But, I learned how to manage that. I also learned a lot from how Saifi bhai [Sarfaraz Ahmed] managed the team. I used to see his demeanour on and off the field and used to ask him questions that helped me.
“The most crucial bit in leading a team is to provide clarity to each and every player and have honest and open communication with the players. This breeds positivity in the team environment and brings everyone together as a team. As a captain, you have a kind of a dual responsibility because as a non-captain, you only focus on your field and batting, but now you also have to run a team. I enjoy taking responsibility and it brings the best out of me.”
For a player who is already regarded as one of the best the country has produced and who has earned tones of accolades over his already legendary career, what is the next goal that he has set himself?
“Being the captain of a World Cup winning side would be sweet,” he said.