Babar Azam: The Pakistani Test vice-captain’s 14th Test half-century yesterday was nothing less than a thing of beauty.
“If this lad was Virat Kohli, everyone would be talking about it but because it is Babar Azam, no one is talking about it. He’s young, he’s elegant, he’s got all the swagger.
“They keep going on about the ‘Fab Four’ (Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root) – it’s the ‘Fab Five’ and Babar Azam is in that,” former England captain Nasser Hussain was quoted as saying by Sky Sports during the first day of the first Test of the ongoing Pakistan’s tour of England in Manchester.
The primary reason why Hussain was being wax lyrical about Pakistan Test vice-captain Babar Azam (69*) was the latter’s elegant and strokeful 14th Test half-century before rain and bad light joined hands to restrict the day’s play to only 49 overs.
— Vikrant Gupta (@vikrantgupta73) August 5, 2020
Azam, who came in to bat at the fall of captain Azhar Ali (0) in the 19th over, stitched a crucial and unbeaten 96-run partnership with opening batsman Shan Masood (46*) as Pakistan have the upper hand on the back of scoring 139/2 on Day 1.
Not that the visiting batsmen don’t have work to do today, getting such a start for a sub-continent team on the first day of a Test series in England is no mean task.
Has Babar Azam done enough to be included in Fab Five?
Azam’s 11 boundaries on Day 1 included delightful drives, assured punches and the occasional stepping out against the English spinners. Within a matter of 100 balls that he faced at the Old Trafford yesterday, there were loud and clear chants of him deserving to become a member of the ‘Fab Five’.
Since there’s no official or specified criteria behind such a category, it mostly remains subjective. Hence, it is always difficult to come to a conclusive conclusion. However, one can always compare all the concerned players with an equal parameter to reach a conclusion (if any).
Before this match, Azam had played a solitary Test in England in 2018. Having scored a half-century in his maiden Test innings in England, Azam had missed the rest of the series due to a fractured forearm.
Hoping against any such injury in this series, Azam’s four Test matches in England by the end of this month can be a criteria for comparing him with the current ‘Fab Four’.
To start with Azam, he currently has 137 runs in two innings in England at a strike rate of 62.27 including a couple of half-centuries. In his first four Test matches in England, India captain Virat Kohli had scored 108 runs at an average of 13.50 and a strike rate of 50.
Talking about Australia’s Steve Smith, his first four Tests in England saw him scoring 173 runs at an average of 21.62. Smith, who made his Test debut at Lord’s but against Pakistan, had played the series as a spinner (batted at No. 8 and 9). In his first four Tests in England as a specialist batsman, Smith’s 200 runs at 25 surely betters Kohli.
New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, who has only played four Tests in England till date, surpasses both Kohli and Smith with 247 runs at an average of 30.87 including one century and half-century each.
England captain Joe Root, who had toured India and New Zealand before playing his first Test at home, had scored an impressive 464 runs at an average of 58 with two centuries and one half-century in his first four Tests in England.
While Azam has already overdone Kohli with respect to first four Test matches in England, he should be able to go past Smith and Williamson as well for he still has six more innings under his belt. However, if he manages to reach near Root’s numbers by any means, it will unequivocally speak highly of the 25-year old batsman.
Record after first 29 Test matches
At the end of this series, Azam will have played 29 Tests and the same can be another criteria to compare him with other modern-day greats. Starting again with Kohli, he had scored 1,855 runs at an average of 39.46 and a strike rate of 50.05 including six centuries and nine half-centuries in his first 29 Tests.
There hasn’t been a more attractive Pakistani batsman than Babar Azam since Mohammad Yousuf, and before him, Zaheer Abbas
— Sambit Bal (@sambitbal) August 5, 2020
In his first 29 Tests as a specialist batsman, Smith had amassed a phenomenal 2,841 runs at an average of 59.18 and a strike rate of 55.19 with the help of 10 centuries and 11 half-centuries.
Williamson, on the other hand, has the worst record out of all these batsmen as his first 29 Tests only yielded 1,794 runs at an average of 35.88 and including just four centuries. Meanwhile, Root had accumulated 2,485 runs at an average of 54.02 and a strike rate of 51.30 including seven centuries and 12 half-centuries in the same number of matches.
Into his 27th match, Azam currently has 1,919 runs at an average of 46.80 with five centuries and 14 half-centuries. Looking at sheer numbers at this stage, he surely looks better than Kohli and Williamson. In what appears to be an intriguing tour of England for Azam and his followers around the world, fruitful results with the bat might convince the fans to reconsider the number of “fab” batsmen in modern-day cricket.