Babar Azam dead-bats strike-rate and form talks ahead of England T20Is

The conference room in Karachi is a cosy little place, one that feels overcrowded when a high-profile press conference is imminent. There’s a flurry of activity as journalists scramble to get themselves to one of the black leather sofas, demand for which far outstrips supply. On a muggy September evening under the glare of the cameras, that effect is further amplified.

However, it wasn’t the size of the room, or the number of people packed into it, which might have caused Pakistan captain Babar Azam to feel as if the walls were closing in. After a career that has seen sustained dominance – it might as well be one large purple patch – this is the first time Babar has faced such forensic scrutiny around his personal performances.

It came on the back of an indifferent Asia Cup where he managed just 68 runs in six innings. In characteristic Pakistan fashion, the criticism would snowball until questions began to be asked about his leadership, his batting position and even his role in the T20 side.

But it was the opinion of former Pakistan cricketer Aaqib Javed that most seemed to rankle. Javed, head coach of Lahore Qalandars in the Pakistan Super League, recently said his side’s strategy revolved around trying not to dismiss Babar, captain of Qalandars’ arch-rivals Karachi Kings, “because he plays at his own pace and the required rate keeps increasing”.

If Javed believed Babar was too defensive at the crease, it wasn’t how he came across when pressed for a response. “Well, if that’s his opinion, then fine, good for him,” Babar said, a hint of a smile breaking out across his face.

But the grin vanished as quickly as it had appeared. Babar fixed the cameras with an austere glare, his posture straightening and voice hardening. “Everyone has their own point of view but I only want to talk about the Pakistan team. People have their opinions but we don’t listen to them or care about what they say.

“Former players can of course air their opinions, but what’s disappointing is the personal attacks. Former players have been through it and know just how much pressure and responsibility there is upon us. I personally don’t bother about such statements. It makes no difference to me.”

Babar might, of course, also have pointed out that not getting him out hasn’t always worked out for Javed’s Qalandars. In the 2020 PSL final, Kings threatened to implode in pursuit of a lowish target but Babar held the innings together with his unbeaten 49-ball 63 steering them to the title. Earlier that very season, another unbeaten 46-ball 69 from Babar had seen Kings rout Qalandars by 10 wickets as they chased down 151 with three overs to spare. In both of those contests, only one Qalandars player bettered Babar’s strike rate.

“To come out of a bad patch, it’s best not to overthink and keep things simple. The main thing is to keep believing in yourself. I know I’ve done well in the past and will do well in the future”

Babar Azam on his form

But Babar, as the highest-profile player in Pakistan cricket, has learned to rise above the fray as much as possible, his public statements and press conferences more sterile than a disinfectant bottle. Even in this response, squeezed out at the end of a short press conference looking ahead to England’s first game in Pakistan in 17 years, he did not mention Javed directly by name.

The rest of the media engagement was replete with the platitudes anyone covering Pakistan cricket is well used to. Babar accepted the value of this series extended beyond its historic nature, keen to use it as a springboard for success leading up to next month’s T20 World Cup.

“This series is important to me personally, and I’ll try to get my form back,” he said. “To come out of a bad patch, it’s best not to overthink and keep things simple. The main thing is to keep believing in yourself. I know I’ve done well in the past and will do well in the future.

“Sometimes it’ll go well, and others not. People will talk regardless of how well you do, but it’s best to ignore all that.”

On the basis of those remarks, it appears Babar’s doing just that.

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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