Former England captain Nasser Hussain opinionated that Pakistan’s Babar Azam is at the same level as the likes of Virat Kohli or Steve Smith, after his sparkling half century yesterday.
Speaking on Sky Sports, Hussain, who has been working with Sky as a commentator for a long time now, said, “Pakistan have a world class batsman in Babar Azam. It’s not only his stats but the way he gets them, how elegant a player he is. He plays through that offside beautifully, a lovely driver of the ball, good off the front foot and the back foot. He’s a very, very watchable young man, he really is. Outstanding player.”
“I think for Pakistan to win this series, Babar Azam needs to have a good series. If he has a good series, it will be very, very watchable. He is a gun player.”
Hussain believes that Babar is underrated to an extent in comparison to the ‘fab four’ of Kohli, Smith, Williamson and Root. He said, “I think it is a real shame and it is in part a consequence of Pakistan playing away from home, playing in the UAE all the time in front of no one, Pakistan hiding in the shadow of Indian cricket, not going over and playing IPL cricket, not playing India.”
“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 averages 68 since 2018 and 55 in white-ball cricket. He’s young, he’s elegant, he’s got all the swagger.”
“They keep going on about the fab four, it’s the fab five and Babar Azam is in that,” he added.
Babar’s rich vein of form in the longest format has gathered Hussain’s attention, at the very least, as he said, “I’ve been trying to figure out why he has got better recently in Test Cricket. I think he is playing pace a lot better and he is playing the ball later.”
“High class. People get runs but also you’ve got to remember that you’re trying to entertain people and when this lad bats and gets hundreds like he has been, he is so, so watchable. He’s such a good player, he’s in good nick. He did it in white-ball cricket at the start of his career but couldn’t quite sort out Test cricket but we showed the stats earlier and since 2018 he’s been the best Test match player. I think he’s only failed once in that period, one single-figure score.”
The England bowlers, though, were under scrutiny from other pundits, after they failed to make the most of the conditions yesterday. Former England ‘keeper-batsman Alec Stewart said on The Cricket Debate, “England set such high standards and have just beaten the West Indies. They know they are up against an even better side in Pakistan. They were good in the first session but it was like a different side came out after lunch. England know they let Pakistan off the hook with those overcast conditions.”
His fellow guest, former England quick Dominic Cork, agreed to his views. Complementing the Pakistan batsmen, he said, “Pakistan played and missed in the first session and could have been two or three down but that’s cricket, you are not always going to get the edges.”
“Pakistan left the ball really well and that made Stuart Broad and James Anderson bowl tighter to the stumps and when you do that Masood and Babar will whip you through the leg-side. England were striving for wickets and got greedy and didn’t stick to their plans. I think they will hold their hands up and say it wasn’t the best they ever bowled.”
He continued, “Ultimately it will be about what they do on the morning (of day two), if they allow Pakistan to build a big first innings Pakistan become favourites, especially with two leg-spinners.”
Praising Pakistan’s courageous call to bat first under cloudy skies, Stewart also said that England need a few wickets to dominate the game.
“It was a good toss to win – and it showed what Pakistan are about. It was a positive option,” he said. “The easy decision would have been to look upstairs and gone ‘it could swing and seam’ but they looked at the pitch and decided they wanted first use of it. They backed their batsmen, who batted with a good tempo, played the ball late, played straight.”
“I’d still says it’s even-stevens. England bowled poorly at times and Pakistan batted well but the game hasn’t gone away. Let’s not go too hard at England. If they make early breakthroughs, then they will control it.”