Babar Azam: Being compared to big players helps set big goals

Pakistan captain Babar Azam talks about his batting philosophy, leading the country in all formats and cricket returning to the nation.

Babar Azam believes in keeping his batting philosophy uncomplicated. Will the same formula help him as he now leads his country in all three formats?   -  Getty Images

Babar Azam is hot property in international cricket. Captain of Pakistan across all formats, he commands a huge following, thanks to the range of his batsmanship. An attacking batsman, Azam is highly rated for his consistency in scoring runs in all conditions.

His fifth ODI century, in 2017, confirmed his claims to figure among the top stars of the game. He was just 15 when he gained a spot in the Pakistan under-19 team and has grown in stature to be regarded as one of the finest Pakistan batsmen. At 26, Azam, after 29 Tests and 77 ODIs, promises to chart an exciting career.

In this exclusive interaction with Sportstar, Azam speaks on various aspects of the game.

Q) You have been a prolific run-getter. But what happens when those scores and performances don't come? How do you deal with that phase of over-expectations and pressure of your fans and critics? 

It is a nice feeling that people expect you to perform. When I don’t perform I look to keep my self positive. Try to maintain my focus on my job. It is important to have self-belief. It helps you to regain your good form. I look to go back to the basics, look at my practice session, and identify the mistakes. I do make adjustments if they are needed to improve my game. It is crucial that you try and regain your confidence when you are training and batting in the nets. It always helps you regain your confidence in match situations.

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My dream has come true - new Test captain Babar Azam

What is your batting philosophy? You remind me of old school batsmen - rock solid in defence with sublime strokeplay…

Honestly, my batting philosophy is simple. It helps if you stay uncomplicated. I look to follow what I learnt in my early years and when I was being groomed for big cricket. I look to establish myself every time I walk out. I aim to polish my game from those lessons learnt. I work to improve my game from that position. The key is that I stay positive and always play to what the situation demands. I don’t discard my style at any point though. Actually, my success comes from my self-belief. I don’t compromise on my self-belief at all. I don’t stray from my work ethic. Basically I enjoy my batting.

Do you go over your dismissals after a game, deconstruct them to find out where you went wrong?

Yes I do, I do analyse my mode of dismissals and see what went wrong. There are times when I revisit the entire match and especially the batting. I make it a point to watch those innings where I would have made mistakes. I look for areas of improvement. It is not necessary that I only watch my dismissals. I do watch my good knocks but also those where I would have failed because there are always areas where I could have done better. You make mistakes and improve by not repeating those mistakes. Each day teaches you to be better. Believe me I learn something new every day. We have to aim to learn something new every day.



What does a nets session look like for you?  How much time do you allocate to each drill?

My planning for the nets session starts the night before. I plan the areas I need to work on. Obviously you train every day. I mark my shots and also the time I am going to devote to my batting in the nets. More than the time I mark for my batting it is important for me to satisfy myself. I also increase the time limit for my batting in the nets. It is related to my confidence. I also rotate my routine. Sometimes I do my fielding sessions first and sometimes batting. I divide time for each session carefully. I maintain a proper time table for my nets sessions.

READ: Babar Azam leads Karachi Kings to maiden Pakistan Super League title

What is your role in the team now - are you the anchor who tries to stay the 50 overs or you are expected to do power-hitting, play the big shots?

I have defined my role. My responsibilities are more than the others. So, I look to bat the full overs if I can. A lot depends on the situation. There are times when one has to bat on a faster note. Have to keep an eye on the run rate and also control the game to keep pace. In such situations, your plans keep changing, and you have to take quick decisions since you have a plan B. You run into a tough pitch, tough bowling, you are constantly tested. You have to decide when to take a chance, when to be defensive. These decisions are to be taken on the day. Of course, I always look for runs and this approach defines my batting really. Must score runs off every ball.

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Babar believes in challenging the standards he sets for himself.   -  Getty Images



You are already being compared to the likes of Virat Kohli. How do you handle these comparisons? 

I know. It does feel nice that you are compared to some very good players in the game. My mindset is that I challenge myself. I set myself targets. I set myself benchmarks. I have to win matches for Pakistan. And win matches which help the team. Comparisons with big players also help you to set goals that match those of the big players. If your name figures in the top five of the world it is obviously a nice feeling. It also means that you have to keep performing to those standards and that boosts your confidence too. I like it.

Who are your batting idol/idols from Pakistan ?

My idol is Mohammad Yousuf. He was such a classy player. He had all the time in the world to play the ball. I always enjoyed watching him bat.

Who do you rely on for technical assessment of your batting ?

Whenever these technical issues crop I consult the coaches attached to the team. I discuss with coaches who have been associated with me for long. I consult my younger brother (Safeer) often. He has helped me a lot in my journey. Last four years or so he has helped me with knocking the ball. He knows all the minute details of my batting. He is quick to come to my rescue when he sees flaws cropping in. My brother is a big help when it comes to working on the mistakes.

You have a lot of admirers in India. Do you have friends in Indian cricket?

I have won fans with my performances and I have friends in India too. I also have fans in India and I request them to keep supporting me. To keep backing me.

Would you like to be known as a good Test player or an entertainer in white ball cricket ?

I would love to be known as a good red-ball cricketer.

READ: Pakistan ready to host top cricketing nations in 2021

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Babar led Karachi Kings to its maiden PSL title.   -  Twitter/ Babar Azam

 

PSL's success and the Zimbabwe series is a big ray of hope for cricket's return to Pakistan. How much of a difference can it make to play at home considering you guys came in at a time when no teams were touring Pakistan? 

There are so many benefits of playing on home grounds and in front of home crowds. You enjoy playing in home conditions really. Our fans come and support us in big number and we also strive to entertain them by playing good cricket. It feels so nice when they cheer you. PSL was played in Pakistan and then we hosted Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. It is another matter than the PSL final and the matches against Zimbabwe were unfortunately played without the presence of fans. We missed our fans.

How much are you aware of Pakistan's rich cricket history. Do you make efforts to meet stalwarts of Pakistan cricket?

We have had some great cricketers who have left a rich legacy. Look at the greats we have in our coaching staff. We have Misbah (ul Haq) bhai, Waqar (Younis) bhai, Younis (Khan) bhai, who is the only Pakistan batsman  with 10000 runs. Such stalwarts are there to guide us. Their performances in tough situations are so inspiring. Then we have Inzi bhai (Inzamam-ul-Haq) and Mushtaq (Ahmed) bhai to guide us. They are always there to help us improve.

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