Lack of ODI cricket is costing Babar Azam
Pakistan’s all-format captain, Babar Azam, is currently the only batter among the top five in the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings, across formats. He is ranked number 1 in ODIs and T20Is and ranked number 5 in Tests.
For Azam, it has been a journey worth relishing as he continues to notch up record-after-record. But has he played his favourite format enough to end up where he deserves to be?
Since the 2019 World Cup, Pakistan has played a total of 14 ODI matches. In comparison, West Indies have played 30, India 27, South Africa 26, and Bangladesh 24. The only countries to have played fewer ODIs than Pakistan in this period are Afghanistan at 12, the Netherlands at 12, and New Zealand, 10.
In this period, Azam has scored 1,048 runs at an impressive average of 1,048 and a strike rate of 105.33, with the highest score of 158. Only West Indies’ Shai Hope has scored more than him (1,217), but he has also taken 12 more innings for that number.
Babar Azam’s six centuries in 14 innings are the most for any player since July, 2019.
Last year, Pakistan had three ODIs against West Indies postponed, which are now scheduled for the next month. The three ODIs each against New Zealand and Afghanistan were also postponed and the same number of ODIs against Sri Lanka this year have been scrapped as they were not part of the ICC Cricket World Cup Super League.
Pakistan will, however, tour the Netherlands for three ODIs in July.
In April last year, Azam dethroned then Indian captain Virat Kohli to become the number 1 ranked ODI batter in the world. Kohli was removed from that spot after a gap of 1,258 days. Since reaching the landmark, the Pakistani batter has scored 453 runs in six innings, at an average of 90.60 and a strike rate of 106.33.
He scored three 100s and a 50 in those matches. The right-hander also became the only player to win ICC Player of the Month twice. His current ODI average of 59.18 is only second to South Africa’s Rassie van der Dussen (71.84) among active cricketers in the format.
In the recent series against Australia at home, Babar Azam also became the fastest to reach 16 ODI centuries in the world. Azam reached the milestone in 84 innings and surpassed South Africa’s Hashim Amla, who needed 94 innings to get there.
Among batters with at least 10 ODI hundreds, Babar Azam’s century to innings ratio of 5.25 is the best in the world. He is followed by India’s Virat Kohli whose ratio is 5.84. Hashim Amla (6.59), David Warner (7.00) and Jonny Bairstow (7.36) make up the top five.
The 16 centuries in 84 ODI innings also mean Babar Azam’s ratio of 19.14% is also the best among batters from Test-playing nations.
Babar Azam has five ODI hundreds in only 12 innings as captain. No captain has registered more hundreds for Pakistan than him. Azhar Ali had 3 in 31 innings, Shahid Afridi 2 in 34 innings, and Inzamam Ul Haq 2 in 77 innings.
Among captains in the world, Babar Azam ranks number one, among those with at least five hundreds. He surpassed Virat Kohli in this list as well, who notched up his fifth ODI ton as captain in his 15th innings. Sourav Ganguly took 27 innings to get there, Aaron Finch and Ricky Ponting needed 29 and 34 respectively.
In the ICC World Cup Super League 2020-23, Babar Azam has amassed 902 runs in just 12 innings, including five centuries. He is averaging 90.20 and his strike rate in this period has been 90.20.
Overall, Babar Azam is now only second to Saeed Anwar for the most ODI hundreds for Pakistan. Saeed Anwar ended his career with 20 ODI hundreds in 244 innings while Azam has only taken 84 innings to get to his 16 so far. Mohammad Yousuf registered 15 hundreds in 267 innings and Mohammad Hafeez 11 in 216 innings.
It would be highly disappointing for Babar Azam and for Pakistan cricket and its fans if the captain fails to play anywhere close to 300 ODI matches for the country.
There is no doubt about his will to break every single record which comes his way, but age could be one factor that stops him from realising his true potential. The lack of ODI cricket played by Pakistan could well be another reason.