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New and Restrained Babar Azam!

Recall the Champions Trophy clash between Pakistan and India.

Oh, not that one. The one in 2009, when Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf, late cut their way to post 300. India’s strong batting line up vs peak Afridi, Ajmal, Amir, and Gul. In the end, Pakistan won comfortably by 54-runs. But one moment from that game stands out.

India cruised along at around six an over till about the 21st over. Rahul Dravid and Virat Kohli were in, the master and the prodigy to take the team home? But Kohli had not yet mastered his checked cover drive. Afridi enticed him to play one over long-off boundary, where Umer Gul after some juggling held on to the catch. The match was perhaps lost there. Virat has often spoken about that dismissal as being a catalyst to change in his approach. The rest as we know is history.

The 1st inning mistake by Babar Azam in Australia test match seemed to be that moment of awakening. To a casual observer, in the second innings, Babar executed his shots better. But when we look at the numbers, it shows there was a concerted effort to respect the bowling. In the 1st innings, four balls saw two aggressive strokes. Yesterday, Babar was circumspect early in his innings, leaving balls pitched in the good length area outside off stump. Yet at the end of the day, his strike rate was more than acceptable.

Today, he was immaculate with his shot selection. There was respect for good balls, while an aggressive intent to score off balls that were not pitching in that area. CricViz stat alert: two runs of 43 good length balls and 31 of 42 of over pitched or short deliveries. These aren’t stats from the whole innings but gives you a fair idea of what he was trying to do. Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins were able to irk out some movement off the pitch, Babar was good enough to survive, unlike the somewhat unlucky Shan Masood. His shot selection was a lot better than say someone like a Haris Sohail. According to CricViz, Babar scored 44 out of 104 runs in the cover region. This included drives and backfoot punches. These backfoot punches came when the ball was coming in from the angle rather than leaving him as it did with Haris’s dismissals. It isn’t a technical flaw as much as being in control of your natural instinct to have a go at the ball, especially early in your innings.

Things inevitably got easier for the batsmen, as Mohammad Rizwan with his unorthodox footwork and flashing blade, built upon the good work of Shan and Masood. He could have done the same in the 1st innings, had the 3rd umpire not made the wrong call about that no-ball. Bowling on day two also left a lot to be desired.

Nonetheless, looking back at the first test, Pakistan would see it as a step towards bettering their chances in the series. They got the worst of the batting conditions but still managed to amass over 500 runs in the test. With Abbas back in the side and part of the match being played under lights, one would hope things will get better.

Even if they don’t, this could be really a moment of great change for Babar Azam. He has struggled to find the rhythm of test match batting thus far. This might be the blueprint to his future success: restrained aggression!

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