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

The meeting room in Karachi is a cozy little place, one that feels crowded when a high-profile press conference is imminent. There is a flurry of activity as journalists scramble to get to one of the black leather couches, demand far outstripping supply. On a foggy September evening under the glare of the cameras, this effect is further enhanced.

However, it was not the size of the room or the number of people packed into it that might have made Pakistan captain Babar Azam feel as if the walls were closing in. After a career that has seen sustained dominance – perhaps as well as a large purple patch – this is the first time Babar has faced such a forensic examination of his personal achievements.

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

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

If Javed thought Babar was too defensive at the crease, that was not how he came across when pressed for an answer. “Well, if that’s his opinion, then fine, good for him,” Babar said with a hint of a smile breaking across his face.

But the laugh disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Babar fixed the cameras with a stern look, his posture straightened and his voice hardened. “Everyone has their own point of view but I will only 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 is disappointing is the personal attacks. Former players have been through it and know how much pressure and responsibility is on us. I personally do not like such statements. It makes no difference to me.”

Of course, Babar could also have pointed out that Javed’s Qalandars have not always succeeded in getting him out. In the 2020 PSL Final, the Kings threatened to implode in pursuit of a low target, but Babar held the innings together with his unbeaten 49-ball 63 that steered them to the title. Earlier that season, another unbeaten 46-ball 69 from Babar had seen the Kings beat the Qalandars by 10 wickets as they chased 151 with three overs to spare. In both these contests, only one Qalandars player bettered Babar’s strike rate.

“To get out of a bad patch, it’s best not to overthink and keep things simple. The most important 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 game as much as possible, his public statements and press conferences more sterile than a disinfectant bottle. Even in this reply, squeezed out at the end of a brief press conference ahead of England’s first match in Pakistan for 17 years, he did not mention Javed directly by name.

The rest of the media engagement was filled with the platitudes that anyone who covers Pakistan cricket is well used to. Babar accepted the value of this series that extends beyond its historic nature, eager to use it as a springboard to success ahead of next month’s T20 World Cup.

“This series is important for me personally and I will try to get my form back,” he said. “To get out of a bad patch, it’s best not to overthink and keep things simple. The most important 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 will go well and sometimes it won’t. People will talk no matter how well you do, but it’s best to ignore all that.”

Based on these remarks, it appears that Babar is doing just that.

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