Babar Azam's journey from ball-picker to World No. 1

The world of cricket marvels at Babar Azam! Let's take a look at the inexorable rise of Babar Azam from the time when he was a ball-picker to this day when he has become the No.1 ODI batsman.

1994: Born in Lahore

Born and raised in Lahore, the powerhouse of cricket and a city known for its scrumptious food and rich Mughal architecture, Babar - which also happens to be the name of a famous Mughal emperor - was born to rule the cricket world. Lahore provides just about the right environment to fulfil your dreams. With the idyllic Gaddafi Stadium situated at the heart of the city and many historic cricket academic and clubs, including Lahore Gymkhana, there are many opportunities to pursue dreams for an aspiring cricketer. Babar was gravitated towards cricket in his early days primarily because of his cousins 'Kamran Akmal' and 'Umar Akmal' who had represented Pakistan at the highest level. Babar Azam has been patient and persistent and his strategy has reaped rewards in his illustrious career. He has still got at least a decade more of cricket left in him—that harbingers many more records yet to be tumbled. 

2007: Ball-picker during South Africa’s tour of Pakistan

With his cousins representing Pakistan at the highest level, he was brought up in a cricketing family and it all started when he was a ball boy at the boundary rope where he keenly observed international superstars in the enthralling series between Pakistan and South Africa in 2007 and, that's where he became determined to wear the coveted green shirt. That was the moment that spurred the young kid to take up cricket and dream big. Watching the batting greats like Jacques Kallis, Younis Khan, Graeme Smith, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousaf closely must have helped him develop a desire to play like the legends. Watching his uncle's son 'Kamran Akmal' playing against the best in the business helped him raise his self-belief, provided extrinsic motivation and increased his conviction to kickstart his career. The competitive spirit that exists between cousins can provide the initial stimulus to strive for excellence. Babar is on his way to inspire another future batting sensation who might be revelling his batting from the boundary rope and there is nothing that fascinates a young bloke more than watching a modern-day batting legend up close.

2009: U19 ODI debut

Babar Azam burst onto the scenes emphatically as he was the leading run-scorer in the Under-19 tri-series with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in 2009. He was brimming with talent and already hogging the limelight with his glorious cover drives. He went on to lead the side in the 2012 ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup. He got his first experience of playing on an international stage and the rest is history.

2010: Played in U19 World Cup Final vs Australia

Babar Azam right through the start of his career got exposed to pressure cooker situations. He strutted his stuff in the final of ICC U19 World Cup 2010 against Australia. Although Pakistan ended up on the losing side, defeats are part of the learning curve. Babar Azam got off to a solid start and scored 28 off 39 balls but couldn't carry on and Pakistan capitulated to Josh Hazlewood's menacing spell as he shed four wickets and was complemented well by Luke Doran who chipped in with three strikes in a low-scoring thriller. 

2012: Captained Pakistan in U19 World Cup

Babar Azam was calling the shots in ICC Under-19 World Cup in Australia back in 2012. It was heartbreaking for the young Babar Azam to lost the all-important match against the arch-rivals India and things got off to a rocky start when Pakistan lost two wickets without troubling the scorers. They were found wanting against Sandeep Sharma's dextrous prodigious swing bowling display. Babar tried to steady the ship but got out after scoring a valiant half-century. The young leader resurrected Pakistan's innings with fabulous rebuilding work and that's where we could already see the potential in him to bat in an unfazed and unflappable manner no matter whatever the match situation is. He got used to seeing wickets tumbling from the other end and it became a kind of habit for him to remain calm when the sky is falling down. 

2015: Best batsman in President’s Cup (487 runs at Avg 97.40)

The youngster coming through the ranks was scoring everywhere and his penchant for topping the charts was visible in the President's Gold Cup One Day in 2015 where he amassed 487 runs in seven innings and maintained a remarkable average of 97.40. Playing for State Bank of Pakistan, he scored an unbeaten 142 against Karachi Dolphins which also happened to be his third century of the tournament. His innings against Dolphins was laced with 22 boundaries as State Bank made light work of the untaxing 214 total.  

2015: Fifty on ODI debut against Zimbabwe in Lahore

Babar Azam was fortunate to play his debut ODI game at home because many players who had cemented their spot on the Pakistan side, such as Asad Shafiq, didn't get that special opportunity to play in front of passionate home crowds. A dusty storm, floodlight failure and cloudburst spoiled the day for Pakistan as the match ended with no result but as far as Babar's performance was concerned, he didn't err on his big day and scored a circumspect fifty to stake a claim for a permanent spot in the middle order.
2016: Three ODI centuries in a row vs WI

Three centuries in a row is no mean feat. Not only it speaks volumes about a batsman's temperament and perseverance, but also it's an evidence of one's insatiable hunger for runs and the mindset to shoot for the stars without being contented with what one has achieved on any stage of career. He strived for excellence and became only the eighth batsman and third Pakistani to score three tons in a row. He moved past South Africa's Quinton de Kock's 342 runs in a three-match ODI series. What's really noteworthy about his accomplishment is that before the West Indies tour in 2016, the then 21-year-old didn't have any century to his name so it proved to be somewhat of a watershed moment for Babar. He piled 360 runs in that run-fest series, disdainfully cut, pulled and drove clueless West Indies bowlers in Pakistan's home away from home, UAE.
2017: Breaks into Top 10 batsmen in ICC ODI Rankings

The aberration in Pakistan's batting line-up made his entry into the ICC top ten batsmen ranking in ODI format in 2017. He scored a magnificent century with oodles of aplomb, exuding his typical grace and elegance in Australia and before that he thumped three back to back tons against West Indies in UAE that paved his way to enter the top ten list. He moved from 13th position to ninth and breaking into the top 10 rankings was a testament to being a proven maestro and one cannot overlook a player's talent and ability once you rate among the best.

2019:  World Cup – 474 runs (most by a Pakistan batsman in his first WC)

It was an action-packed and high-drama filled World Cup and things got incredibly exciting when the final ended in a deadlock and England were crowned champions on the basis of boundary count. Pakistan showed a late resurgence and narrowly missed out from the final entry because of the inferior net run rate. However, the way Pakistan defeated the tournament's finalists was astounding as many observers had already written off Pakistan. Babar Azam was one of the chief architects in paving Pakistan's comeback in the marquee event. 

Babar enhanced his reputation as a match-winner in the nerve-jangling encounter against New Zealand where Pakistan was up against a lethal pace battery and Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman both failed at the top. Babar calmed the nerves and played one of his finest knocks, oozing poise and class throughout the sublime stay at the crease. His 10th century under immense pressure in front of a jam-packed crowd earned him a lot of respect and he was rightly adjudged player of the match for his epic innings. His amazing performances were penned down into cricketing folklore and will be rejoiced and relived for ages to come. Pakistan chased down the tricky 241 total on a seething track with five balls to spare and Babar Azam remained unbeaten on a memorable day. Earlier in the tournament, against Bangladesh, Babar Azam played a fantastic knock of 96 that helped Pakistan post a par score of 315. Up against Proteas, Babar Azam played a valiant innings of 69 and his partnership with Haris Sohail was crucial to the cause of Pakistan as they posted 308 which proved enough to defend as South Africa could manage 259 in their innings. In a rain-truncated game, Babar got 48 against India and he found ways throughout Pakistan's 2019 World Cup campaign to score when the team needed the most. In the mega tournament, Babar proved that he is a big-daddy, big-match player. 

2020: Named Pakistan’s ODI captain

By 2020, Babar Azam already proved his mettle and stamped his authority across all formats and was shouldered with the responsibility of spearheading the Pakistan One-Day side. After taking the mantle, the batting hinges on Babar Azam completely and he sets the tone for other batsmen. If he gets out early, the entire batting team's morale goes down and not often we see rebuilding work. Amid the distractions, turbulence, and chaos that comes with being a Pakistani skipper, Babar Azam kept his head in the game and is developing his skills at a phenomenal rate. In the ongoing South Africa tour, Babar Azam accumulated 228 runs, which includes a majestic century in the ODI series opener and a quickfire 94 in the series decider.

2021: Becomes number one batsman in ICC ODI Rankings

And now Babar Azam has finally climbed to the top of the ladder after being stupendously consistent over the years. After an exceptional series against the Proteas, Babar has trumped Virat Kohli and attained the number one spot in ICC ODI batsmen rankings. Pakistan lost hope of finding a batsman who could dominate in all conditions and play delightful strokes, especially his trademark cover drive that is celestial in timing and make Babar look aesthetically pleasing to watch; Pakistan dearly needed a reliable batter in the middle order to inspire the next crop of batsmen as we often manage to find quality bowlers, but it's the quality batsmen that have become a rare commodity.