The Babar Azam cover drive is a caress. It is gentle and it is soothing; it makes us forget all our worries as we watch one man rise above whatever makes us all so painfully human and briefly flirt with perfection itself.
Sometimes he leans in and gets to the pitch of the ball, the epitome of textbook technique, and sometimes he just uses superhuman hand-eye coordination to stand and deliver; sometimes it comes with a flick of the wrist and sometimes it comes with his elbows high; sometimes it hits the full face of the bat and sometimes it hits some delicate angle with unerring geometric precision; sometimes the sound of the ball hitting the bat echoes through the stadium and sometimes there is hardly a whisper; sometimes it consumes the opposition in frustration and sometimes they simply stand and admire.
But whenever it comes, it comes with its very own little footnote: from Babar, with love. It brings with it this certainty that Babar Azam is gifted beyond the dreams of ordinary men; destined to not only rub shoulders with the best amongst us but to dominate them.
What makes Babar so impressive is not that he delivers results, but that he delivers them with such emphatic style and panache. He came to the crease with the score at 25-3 and got off the mark with a straight drive, he brought up his half-century by cutting Mitchell Starc through backward point and he moved into the 90s with another back-foot crunch through cover.
He saved the best for last though: the caress. It came with a flick of the wrist, it hit some delicate angle of his bat with unerring geometric precision, the sound echoed through the Gabba and Australia didn’t know whether to be annoyed or awe-struck. And at its end, as Babar leaped up into the air, it simply said: from Babar, with love.
The century seems to mark the moment when Babar finally announces himself in the Test arena. Not that his performances of late have been poor, just that there hadn’t yet been a watershed moment, no true day that fans could recall with nostalgic admiration as the one on which Babar Azam the Test player was born.
Babar’s Test average of 36.21 just doesn’t seem right for someone so obscenely talented but his performances in the longest format have picked up of late. His average since the start of last year stands at 50.88
And he has made two centuries and seven half-centuries in the 20 Tests during that time. He has also upped his strike-rate considerably — perhaps taking a leaf out of Virat Kohli’s book, who found that attacking intent can help carry limited-overs form into the red-ball format. His strike-rate this year is more than 70 and while many derided him for the way he got out in the first innings, Babar’s best two years in terms of strike-rates are also his best two years in terms of averages. Kohli’s career also has followed a similar pattern of proportionate relationship between scoring rates and runs scored.
This is not to say that there isn’t room for improvement. Babar’s fourth innings average, when the pitch has deteriorated and scoring is at its most difficult, stands at just 19.5. Most teams opt to bat first in Tests these days, especially in the UAE, which goes some way towards explaining why Babar’s average when the toss is won stands at 57.15 while his average when Pakistan lose the toss drops to just 24.87. Performances of someone destined for greatness should not be so dependent on the flip of a coin.
The century may turn out to be a false dawn and Babar might never realize his true potential in the longest format — it isn’t unheard of for a Pakistani player to suddenly lose his talent along the way somewhere — but something about Babar seems different. Something about him makes you certain that this is no mere mortal, that we will keep seeing that glorious cover drive again and again, and that it will always come with its own little footnote: from Babar, with love.