Babar Azam, the Pakistan opener, stroked a beautiful 58-ball 90 in the second Twenty20 International against South Africa on Sunday, 3 February, but his coach, Mickey Arthur, said there was more to come.
The 24-year-old’s knock went in vain – Pakistan lost by 7 runs and conceded a 2-0 lead in the series – but that shouldn’t take away from just how good he was. There were 13 fours and a six in his stay in the middle, and while he was there, it looked quite likely that Pakistan would hunt down the 189-run target.
However, a middle-order implosion meant Pakistan fell short, but Azam’s form was cause for optimism. “I have never doubted Babar. I said two years ago that he was going to be that good," Arthur was quoted as saying by Cricbuzz. “The exciting thing is that we haven't seen the best of him yet.
“Two years ago when I saw him in the nets I said that he was going to be as good as Virat Kohli. From a young boy back then he has developed into a man now. He has got stronger and fitter. And, I certainly think he is going to be in the top five in the world across all formats very, very soon.”
Azam has had an excellent series. He was the third-highest scorer in the Tests, aggregating 221 runs in three matches, and played crucial knocks in the five one-day internationals as well. Then, in the two T20Is so far, he has scored 38 and 90.
“He is going to get better and better,” said Arthur. “There were always question marks on Babar's ability to perform outside the subcontinent. He has been unbelievable on this tour and he has put those questions to rest.”
Arthur, however, wasn’t all that happy with his bowlers. South Africa were allowed to post 188/3, with Usman Shinwari having a particularly hard time of it – he conceded 63 runs in four wicket-less overs. "To be brutally honest with ourselves, I think we batted brilliantly but bowled poorly as a unit apart from Imad Wasim (1/9 in four overs),” said Arthur.
“We did not execute our plans. We gave away 64 runs off short balls when the plan was to bowl full and wicket-to-wicket. The execution in the last over particularly was poor."
The final T20I will be played at Centurion on Wednesday, 6 February.