In one of his books, Sir Alex Ferguson defined David Beckham as someone who was oblivious to his weaknesses. On first reading, this looked a bit of jibe. Considering how their relationship had soured, it might have been. But he goes on to explain that as a footballer that ignorance was his biggest strength. It gave him clarity of thought and singlemindedness to prove himself. Most of all, it gave him the belief in his own ‘greatness’.
Very few top professionals are humble about their craft. Take CR7 for example. From early days at Manchester United, he was convinced and vocal about his own greatness. His teammates laughed at him, but he made it. The competition, to him, was inferior. The famous Imran Khan ‘belief story’ of the 1992 World Cup is often talked about. He knew, once the team clicked, it will be all over for the opposition. Similarly, we have heard that story about Javed Miandad, asking an Indian bowler repeatedly his room number, only to respond with ‘udhar chaka maronga’. He said it because he believed that he could hit a six when desired.
The whole 90s Pakistan team had this belief instilled in them. Once they knew that they were up for it, no opposition would stay afloat. Today in their analysis from Shoaib Akhtar to Rashid Latif, their strong faith in their own abilities seeps through often clouding their judgements. During that golden phase of India-Pakistan relations from 2004 to 2008, in one test Shahid Afridi was batting in the 90s. Sachin Tendulkar bowling round the wicket leg-spin challenged him to hit one towards mid-on. He took him and was dismissed. When later asked, Afridi said, well he challenged me.
Once Sourav Ganguly was asked why did he attempt the six when the fielder was on the boundary. He said that when you want to hit a six, you look for people beyond the boundary not inside. Younus Khan was once told by Haroon Rashid that he wasn’t fit enough (before Pakistan selection). To prove him wrong, he did dozens of laps of the ground in summer of Karachi. You can see a similar sort of disdain in Babar Azam’s game. It doesn’t matter if its Australia, I will go from my cover drive, irrespective of the score. He could be 97 or at 1. Supreme belief in himself is visible.
When Lasith Embuldeniya came on to bowl yesterday, it was a bit of a surprise. Given that Vishwa Fernando had bowled two superb deliveries, to get rid of an increasingly under pressure Azhar Ali and Shan Masood, you would have gone that the seamers could continue for a bit longer. But the left-arm spinner came on in the 11th over and was welcomed with two boundaries of the back foot by Abid Ali. The fourth ball, he found the length and the pace for the wicket. It looped and dipped on middle and off stump and spun past the outside edge. It was rapid spin. Babar was watching from the other end.
Day 1, eleventh over of the innings and it was spinning big. Babar was a spectator on the non-striker’s end. Soon a couple of balls from Lahiru Kumara reared off a length. In those moments, Babar decided that this wasn’t a wicket to bat time. His strike rate of 62 (career strike rate of 54) and that of Asad Shafiq 50 (slightly higher than career SR of 48) showed as much.
But the way the duo went about their job was very different. Despite the vicious turn, Babar Azam skipped down the track to Embuldeniya at least five times before being stumped finally. These included some jabs of Yorkers and a magnificent six. Eventually, as perhaps the duo had predicted, a ball came with their names on it.
Had Babar played more like Shafiq, things might have been perhaps different. They could have stayed out there longer, or he could have gotten an unplayable ball earlier. Who knows? But there was a distinct difference between how Asad tackled spin and how Babar did it. Asad was happy to skip down the wicket against largely ineffective Dilruwan Perera and drove him with the spin. Facing Embuldeniya, he largely stayed in his crease. While Babar ventured out multiple times, ignoring the threat of one spinning past him.
It is perhaps that belief that the 90s team like to call jigra or dilari. But today it cost Babar his wicket. With experience, he will learn to find a middle ground, where he can be assertive and not arrogant. May be he can take a leaf out of Asad Shafiq’s book when it comes to bowler-friendly wickets. Sometimes being full of self-belief can mean you become overconfident.