Babar Azam stars as Pakistan win first ODI against Proteas
TSHWANE – Babar Azam driving. Babar Azam pulling. Babar Azam flicking through leg. Babar Azam doing whatever he felt like doing and ultimately winning.
An innings of such stellar quality, did not deserve the person producing it, to finish on the losing side. Thankfully for Babar, his side won – just.
The only people whose day was spoilt by Babar was Temba Bavuma, captaining his country for the first time, Rassie van der Dussen, who made his first international century and the South African bowlers, who suffered at the hands of one of the most talented players on the world stage.
Bavuma was largely helpless against his opposite number’s casual dissecting of his bowlers. One very difficult early opportunity was created as a result of some pre-match analysis - Aiden Markram was moved to gully, and Babar, on four, angled a stroke in that direction, but a difficult chance low to his right was missed by the fielder.
There were to be no more chances. What followed was an innings of such beauty and elegance, that it wouldn’t have looked out of place as a movement piece in an art gallery. Drives were executed with languid grace, while the timing on some flicks through the legside defied belief. As he strode without fuss to his 13th century, he treated Lungi Ngidi with utter disdain, flicking, pulling and driving the big quick bowler, however he pleased.
Ngidi needn’t feel bad, for Babar did the same to Kagiso Rabada a short while later, a drive through the covers and a glance with the ball taken virtually from the off-stump to third man, highlighted a man in complete control.
When Babar was dismissed for 103 off 104 balls, all control was lost. The match descended into mayhem, very unbecoming for an occasion which had seen an innings of such quality. Babar’s was the first of four wickets to fall for the addition of 17 runs in six overs, all to Anrich Nortje, as Pakistan got tense.
Mohammed Rizwan, a pain in the Proteas backside in the last few months, made 40, seemingly settling all the nerves. But Pakistan, panicked some more, and then so did South Africa, with Van der Dussen missing a catch and Ngidi bowling Shadab Khan, with a high full toss that the batsmen deflected onto his stumps and which was declared a no-ball.
It all came down to the last ball, which Faheem Ashraf knocked through the covers, to secure the win.
Such drama seemed most unlikely when South Africa had slumped to 55/4 in the 15th over after being asked to bat. It took a workmanlike knock from Van der Dussen, making his first international century in his 48th innings for the Proteas.
As brilliant as Van der Dussen’s 123 not out was, on a surface that he described as “sticky,” South Africa’s start with the bat, in which the top order didn’t come to terms with the pitch and failed to find the right balance in their approach, deserved to be punished and ultimately that proved to be the case.
The craziness of the last few overs aside, the day belonged to Babar.
The argument about him making the ‘big four’ of modern batting – Kohli, Williamson, Root and Smith – into the ‘big five’ is dependent on the Pakistan captain, being a more consistent performer in the Test arena. There is no doubting Babar’s limited overs prowess, for he may already be superior to a couple in that quartet in the white ball formats. Friday’s performance proved that.