After a decade or more of watching incompetent batsmen go in and out of the huddle, it seems like the tide is turning for Pakistani fans. After the retirement of Misbah Ul Haq and Younis Khan, the fans wondered whether they would be able to replace such batting talents ever again.
The recent emergence of Abdullah Shafique and the consistency of Babar Azam have raised eyebrows though. Firstly, it is just remarkable to see how the Karachi Kings captain has been performing as of late. Regardless of what the format is, he always has a habit of making his mark. The great right-handed batsman sits on top of the ODI and T20 rankings right now.
Azam has been around the international circuit for a good seven years now but he announced his arrival primarily in the 2019 World Cup when he scored a century against New Zealand wherein he scored an unbeaten ton to take Pakistan home.
Despite being only 24 years of age then, the Karachi Kings captain had the record of scoring the highest runs in a single World Cup campaign by a Pakistani. This was one of many notable records that he was about to break.
He smashed the highest runs in the 2019 and 2020 PSL campaigns, the only batsman ever to do so. In the 2020 edition, he was part of the Karachi Kings side that won their first-ever PSL title, beating arch-rivals Lahore Qalandars in the finals.
In the 2021 T20 World Cup, he led Pakistan to the semi-finals, losing a close encounter against Australia. However, he became the first Pakistani captain in history to beat India in a World Cup event, thumping the arch-rivals by 10 wickets in the tournament opener. He also was one of the highest run-getters of the 2021 World T20 campaign.
Babar Azam’s Rise In Red Ball Arena
Azam’s arrival in Tests was delayed but worth the wait. The Punjab-born had a shaky start to his red-ball career in late 2016 raised doubts if he could replicate his antics from the white-ball circuit, but he was quick to shut his critics here as well.
Fast forward to 2022, the way he is performing in Tests, it is just a matter of time before he finds himself on top of the shelf in the test batsman rankings as well.
In his last 10 test innings, Babar has scored 55 or more runs in every innings. That includes a remarkable 196, which he scored against Australia in the second test of the 2022 series at home in Karachi.
His recent century against Sri Lanka, when the team looked dead and buried in the first innings, shows that he has the ability to lead from the front. Babar is arguably the most complete batsman in the world right now and can unlock any bowling side.
He is one of the only three Pakistani batsmen to score centuries in all three forms of cricket.
Abdullah Shafique - The Modern-Day Rahul Dravid
Speaking of being a master of every format, Abdullah Shafique seems to be making headlines as of late. The biggest thing about Abdullah’s emergence is that nobody expected it. With the form that Abid Ali and Imam Ul Haq were showing as an opening pair, it seemed unlikely that the 22-year-old would get any chance to prove himself in Test cricket.
The opportunity arrived for the right-handed batsman in Test cricket after Abid Ali was diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome.
With Abid out of the team, Shafique took his position, and boy did he grab the opportunity well.
After his debut in November 2021, the critics were mentioning Shafique’s strike rate a lot, which was below 50 at times. They believed that the no. 57 should understand the importance of rotating the strike if he wants to progress as a batsman.
With critics on his back, he excelled in T20 cricket with Lahore Qalandars. In the 2022 season, he played a huge role in the Qalandars team that won their first-ever PSL title.
He batted at no.3 after the opening pair of Fakhar Zaman and Phil Salt. However, he was promoted as an opening batsman in the final against Multan Sultan, ending the event with 251 runs in 11 matches.
With success coming in franchise cricket, he had to prove a point in Tests and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
Despite Pakistan losing the Tests against Australia at home, Shafique enjoyed that series with a few notable knocks. In the fourth innings of the first test match, the Lahore Qalandars batsman scored his maiden test century and scored 397 runs during that series.
The biggest moment of Shafique’s career has come recently against Sri Lanka. In the fourth innings of the first test match in Galle, the 22-year-old smashed his personal best test score of 160 as Pakistan clinched the win. This was also their highest test chase in Sri Lanka.
Shafique became the fifth player in Test history to face 400 or more balls in the fourth innings of a test match. The last one was Azam himself, who did the same against Australia in the test series earlier on in the year. No wonder why Azam likens him to India’s Wall - Rahul Dravid.
With the way in which both the batsmen are breaking records left, right, and center, it seems like the sky's the limit for them. Despite the good form shown by Shafique, there are reports that his position can be changed in the test team.
Due to the lack of form shown by Azhar Ali in the past few months, many critics believe that Shan Masood should be included and Shafique should be deployed as a no.3 batsman.
As for Azam, the way he is performing, he will surely be a contender for the highest runs scored by a batsman in a calendar year. However, the team spirit that he has brought within the camp also shows that he is equally as committed outside the cricket ground as he is on it.
His composure at the crease alongside Shafique has almost given birth to a new chemistry between them, like what we saw between the skipper and wicketkeeper Muhammad Rizwan in T20Is.