By R Kaushik in Mirpur
35-year-old Pakistan spinner, waiting for a call-up in all formats, says he is not intimidated by today’s great batsmen
Stories used to abound of how, in the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan’s young cricketers, with little exposure to information or television, arrived with a bang at the international level largely because they were immune to the reputation of their opponents. Once they didn't know whom they were bowling to or who was bowling at them, to them it became a simple game of bat and ball, except, of course, instead of playing on the streets or in dusty playgrounds, they were parading their skills to big audiences in world-class stadiums.
Over time, as technology caught up and awareness increased, the mystique somewhat disappeared. Hence, it came as a massive surprise to hear Zulfiqar Babar sing a tune that was in fashion in times gone by, but which might sound like an anachronism in the modern day and age.
Babar is an orthodox left-arm spinner, 35 years of age. He made his first-class debut in the 2001-02 season, but had to wait a dozen years before breaking into international cricket, making his Twenty20 International debut in July last year in the West Indies and earning his Test cap three months later, in October, against South Africa in the United Arab Emirates.
His debut for the national team came at an age when many players would have retired from the game altogether, but while he is no spring chicken, Babar brings with him a great deal of experience and craft. He has 345 first-class wickets from 69 matches at just under 21, wonderful numbers given the felicity with which Pakistanis play the turning ball, and his international stats, even from a small database, are decent, too.
Babar has six wickets from two Tests, both against South Africa, and five T20Is have brought him 10 sticks at an economy of 7.05. Two of those 10 scalps came on his ICC World T20 debut, against Australia on Sunday (March 23), when he got rid of David Warner and Shane Watson, the two powerhouses, during the first over of Australia’s chase of 192.
“I frankly did not know that they (Warner and Watson) were two great batsmen,” Babar, him of the disarming smile, said on Tuesday. “I bowled as usual at a line and length which I am used to bowling in every match.” Warner was bowled second ball as he shaped to cut, the ball hurrying off the pitch to rattle off-stump, while Watson was caught behind as he made room to drive over the infield on the off-side, undone by slight turn and only managing an outside edge to the wicketkeeper.
Babar does know who Chris Gayle is, having played against him on his T20I debut in the Caribbean when he picked up the man of the series award after combined figures of 8-0-60-5 across two matches. “I am not scared of bowling at top batsmen like Chris Gayle,” he said. “I follow only one rule and that is to follow the instructions of the captain and bowl as he asks me to.”
Sunday’s match against Australia was a comeback of sorts for Babar but he showed few signs of nerves. “I bowled well because my captain (Mohammad Hafeez) and coach (Moin Khan) gave me the confidence. Now I only represent Pakistan in T20I matches. I want to play in all three formats of the game for Pakistan regularly.”
Babar isn’t the first from his family to represent Pakistan in international sport. His father, Abdul Ghaffar, was a football player, but never pressurised him to follow in his footsteps, Babar said. “I too used to play football when I was young but when my father saw me play cricket and found that my passion was cricket, not only did he allow me to pursue that passion, he also encouraged me to do so.” And here is the son, bowling at the likes of Warner and Gayle in supposedly a young man’s sport, and more than holding his own.