In the latest rankings published by the International Cricket Council (ICC), Pakistan captain Babar Azam is the only cricketer to feature in the top three of all formats. He is ranked No. 1 in both T20I and ODI, and No. 3 in Tests.
In Tests, Azam leapfrogged Steven Smith this week to become No. 3, on the back of consistent performances against Sri Lanka in the Test. While the rest of his team struggled against the Sri Lankan spinners, Azam played them with very little discomfort, scoring a valiant 119 in the first innings.
For quite a long time, the longest format of the game has been an Achilles heel for Babar. But things have now changed as he keeps on piling mammoth totals with incredible consistency. His average is now just below 48, and if there’s no dip in his form in near future, it may well inflate over 50. As of now, Joe Root is the only batter to average over 50 in both Tests and T20Is.
Root is also the main competitor for Babar in his quest to become the first man in history to hold the No. 1 spot in all three formats. Although Marnus Labuschagne also ranks above Babar in Test, there’s a very narrow gap between them. Given the form he is in, one shouldn’t be surprised if Azam surpasses Labuschagne by the end of this year. Moreover, Australia will play their next Test only next year. In the same period, Babar will get to lead his troop in two series.
Can Babar Overtake Root In Tests?
Babar is 49 points behind Joe Root in the Test rankings. Perhaps the easiest way for Babar to reach the summit would be to expect a sudden decline in Root’s form while he continues to stack runs. But anyone who has watched the former English captain bat in the last couple of years will tell you this is wishful thinking. There’s an air of inevitability around Root nowadays, and his scores in the last seven innings read 115*, 176, 3, 5, 86*, 31, and 142*.
Root’s next assignment is three Tests against South Africa later this month, and the records are very much in his favour. In 12 matches against South Africa, Root has amassed 1164 at an astounding average of 52.90. If you introduce another filter of home matches, Root’s average shoots up to 57.
Babar, meanwhile, will play his last Test in November, against New Zealand at home. To date, Babar has never played a Test against New Zealand at home, as most of his home games happened in the UAE. Last year, the Kiwi board cancelled the Test series at the 11th hour, drawing ire from both the fans and players. Azam has scored over 267 runs in three matches against New Zealand in Asia.
The pitch has favoured the batters this year, as seen in the series against Australia. Provided there’s no significant change in the surface, one could bank upon Babar to score big.
In between these two events, Pakistan will be touring Joe Root’s nation for a three-match series in September this year. Babar boasts a tremendous average of 65 against England in their own backyard. Similarly, Joe Root has totalled 1010 runs in 12 innings against Pakistan at home. More than Babar and Root, the quality of bowling on display will have a larger say here.
Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood are expected to be back in the mix for England, while it remains to be seen whether James Anderson will continue to prowl or hang up his boots. Pakistan’s bowling is largely dependent on Shaheen Shah Afridi. Fair to say, Root will be facing a comparatively easier bowling attack than Pakistan.
Biggest Challenge For Babar
In order to become the first man to hold the No. 1 position in all three formats, surpassing Joe Root in Test rankings is the ultimate of all hurdles. While chasing Root, Babar will also have to maintain the edge in both ODIs and T20Is. This has to be the trickiest part, as there’s only so much a player can do. Not only does it depend on Babar’s performance, but also on several other factors like the number of games he plays as compared to his arch-rival.
In T20I, Babar’s closest competitor is his compatriot and opening partner Mohammad Rizwan. There’s a gap of 24 points between them. Aiden Markram, who is at No, 3, is way behind Babar. With the host of bilateral T20Is coming ahead of the World Cup in Australia, Babar needs to be at the top of his game. Azam has played only three T20Is in Australia, but his competitors have even fewer.
In ODIs, Babar’s reign looks safe from being breached, as he is 77 points ahead of Imam-ul-Haq. Pakistan are set to play three ODIs against the Netherlands, and there would definitely be some easy runs on offer for the No. 1 batter. A few weeks ago, Babar became the quickest to reach 1000 runs as a captain, achieving the feat in just 13 innings.
A lot of things ought to fall in favour for Babar Azam to become the No. 1 batter in all three formats, but if there’s one player you can bet upon, it has to be him. Only time will tell whether he does it or not, but nonetheless, it will be a fun ride.
Featured Image Credit: Babar Azam/Twitter