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Babar’s excellence scores a rare win over Afridi’s populism

US, UK, India, Israel, Pakistan, Turkey, Brazil, Philippines, Italy, Poland, Hungry…the list of countries where some type of populist leader has taken the throne by coaxing and coercing different powers. They differ in their methods. Some use race or religion, others drive their power from a singular idea of nationalism. But in reality, their populism comes from bluster. Selling surreal dreams based on simplistic and failed ideas.

Yet, here we are.

When Euro T20 Slam signing were announced, somehow Shahid Afridi was signed for more money than Babar Azam, the number ranked T20 batsman in the World. It reflected poorly on cricket, but this was more about the world we live in. The currency of social media attention is valued higher than the runs or wickets picked up in the field.

Manchester United, ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, have often been accused of signing players to push up their social media following. The business savvy Ed Woodward had recognized that likes, and retweets matter almost as much as goals and assists. It showed in their finances.

The Euro T20 Slam is a league in its infancy. They need big names, which is the nature of the beast. They needed to hear it. Few cricketers grab as many eye balls as Shahid Khan Afridi. Or that is what we are told. The evidence of the past few days however, suggests otherwise.

Babar Azam is plying his trade in the T20 Vitality Blast, while Afridi (and a host of other stars) are part of the 2019 Global T20 League. While, Afridi has had one innings of substance (and a wonderful video of him conversing with Wahab Riaz about his fitness), Babar is leading the run charts with 263 runs in 5 innings. This really isn’t a surprise though.

What is the real bonus for Somerset are the new fans he has brought to them. The county’s social media team were proactive and certainly the golden boys from club welcoming him in a typical English way had an impact. But no one would have predicted the numbers we have seen. According to reports in their 2nd last game, more than a million people tuned to the official live stream of the club.

Despite, having a lot of big name superstars, the Global T20 League has not hit such numbers. It is understandable given that Canada doesn’t spring as the best destination to play cricket. The Euro Slam, starts from a similar position, where they want to register their brand name in the cricket world. What is the best way to do it? The Vitality Blast T20 numbers showed it is Babar Azam.

Simply because, when the dust of populism will settle, we would be left with an almighty mess. It would require some excellence, to undo it all. Human civilization might not have the chance to its course with climate change. Cricket’s selectors might do well, to change course whilst they have time.

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