After winning the close-fought opening ODI against South Africa in Centurion this Friday (April 2), Pakistan captain Babar Azam would’ve felt more relieved than happy. Relieved, as Pakistan nearly ruined what seemed a straight-forward chase at one stage, anchored wonderfully by another classy century from Babar.
Glint with his quality defense and artistic strokeplay, Babar’s knock of 103 runs off 104 balls and the overall chase summed up how life’s been for him as Pakistan’s ODI anchor. Babar is often walking in after an early fall of wicket and has the onus on him to play the saviour in a vulnerable Pakistan batting unit.
There are broadly two kinds of practitioners of the ODI batsmanship. One are termed as the ‘aggressors’ of a line-up, while the others are deemed ‘anchors’. Depending on their approach at the crease, players are slotted in either category. Generally, the role of an aggressor is considered tougher, as he has to play the attacking game, take risks and keep his team in line for a par score even if it is at his own expense. The aggressor allows the anchor batting alongside him to retain his sedate ways and bat deeper into the innings.
An anchor can feed off the work done at the other end by the aggressor and maintain a good average without having to compromise on his strike-rate. That isn’t to say his role is easy. Not at all. In fact, being assigned anchoring duties in a batting unit vindicates an individual’s overall ability and range. These are robust players, who are facing more balls through an innings and are, therefore, responsible massively for what their team eventually achieves in terms of a score.
Still, it becomes relatively more comfortable to play anchor in a unit if your team has batting riches in abundance around. Just as same, if your team is always nearer to a collapse than it is to safety, playing an anchor becomes that much more difficult. Babar Azam and Pakistan belong to the latter category.
Babar Azam – Pakistan’s great ODI anchor
Babar is an excellent ODI anchor, who has to cut down risks for that much longer in an innings and keep Pakistan afloat as an overall batting unit. He has now scored 3,683 runs in his 78-match ODI career at an average of 56.66 while maintaining a strike-rate of 88.15. Against traditional top 9 sides, Babar’s ODI record retains a strong outlook: he averages 53.52 with a strike-rate of 86.89 from 65 matches, including 11 hundreds and 13 half-centuries.
In those 65 matches, an average Pakistani wicket has fallen for every 34.11 runs. Babar is averaging nearly 20 runs higher for each of his wicket. If a study around ‘player to team’ influence is conducted right now, Babar would emerge as one of the most important players in international cricket.
Babar’s approach is criticised in certain corners but people seldom realise and give him credit for almost shouldering the burden of an entire Pakistan batting unit. Babar doesn’t have a comfort zone himself. He, in fact, helps others around him play in their comfort zones. In modern-day cricket, especially, it wouldn’t be easy on a mental level for Babar to take that level of workload on him and not feel as liberated at the crease as some of the other anchors of the world do.
Since the start of 2019, he has a strike-rate of 93.04 in ODIs against the top 9 teams, while averaging 63.88 – which shows how Babar has only expanded his range with time and experience. His quality shines through in numbers, as in those matches, no other Pakistani batsman has as good an average to strike-rate ratio.
In victories against Pakistan’s strongest possible oppositions – Australia, India, New Zealand, England and South Africa – Babar averages 89.25 with a strike-rate of 85.30. It shows Pakistan’s dependency on Babar. In defeats involving him against these opponents, his average drops down to 35.48. Still, in 31 such losing instances, only one other Pakistan batsman, part of at least 20 of them, averages better.
Babar has always been the stand-out Pakistani batsman on show. In the World Cup in the UK two years back, he produced 474 runs at an average of 67.71 while having a strike-rate of 87.78. No other batsman from his team was in the list of top 15 run-makers for the competition.
Looking at alm these facts and figures, Pakistan should consider themselves blessed to have an anchor of Babar Azam’s quality, who should be hailed for the commendable record he has managed to pile on despite playing around an inconsistent and fragile batting unit.
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