Babar Azam’s incredible 2021 has been capped off with a No.1 T20I batting ranking.
Combining in an opening partnership of 158 with Mohammad Rizwan against the West Indies in Karachi to set up a 3-0 series win, Babar’s 79 from just 53 balls propelled him back to the top, overtaking Aiden Markram and Dawid Malan. He now sits No.1 in both the men's T20I and ODI rankings going into the final nine days of the year.
South Africa sojourn sets up sizzling year
Babar’s legacy across all three formats is being forged in front of our eyes, though it’s in the game’s shortest format where his talent shone brightest in 2021.
In the calendar year, Babar amassed 939 runs at 37.56, with a strike rate of 127.58, kickstarted by a fruitful tour of South Africa in April.
Making an even 50 in Johannesburg, Babar pushed on with a knock of 122 from 59 balls in Centurion, in an exhibition of world-class batting. Only dismissed in the 18th over trying to ramp Lizaad Williams, his Pakistan would go on to chase the target of 204 with two overs to spare.
In such good touch, the innings was underlined by a guide to the third man boundary off a yorker by Sisanda Magala, at pace and honing into the off-stump. It was probably at that point where we should have seen Babar’s electric 2021 coming.
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Partnering Mohammad Rizwan at the top
Fans and pundits alike questioned his move to the top of the order with Mohammad Rizwan, though the chorus of qualms were silenced with the the pair shouldering the batting load with aplomb.
The pair enjoyed each other’s company in 2021, making 1380 runs together, with an average partnership of 57.50. To put the figure into context, Uganda’s pair of Saud Islam and Simon Ssesazi (537) and Ireland’s Paul Stirling and Kevin O’Brien (518) were the next best across men’s T20I cricket for the year. At an average of a comparable 57.33, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma also looked dangerous, but only batted together on nine occasions.
Babar and Rizwan chased India's 151 unbeaten within 18 overs to open Pakistan's T20 World Cup account, and put on 113 for the first wicket against Namibia in Abu Dhabi during their barnstorming Super 12 campaign. The pair also put on 71 against Australia to set up a total of 176 in the tournament semi-final, only to be run down by their opponents in Dubai.
The other half of the game's in-form T20I opening pair, Rizwan himself enjoys a No.3 T20I batting ranking, with his rating of 798 the highest of his career. He also leapfrogs Markram, who drops to fourth.
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On form under the T20 World Cup spotlight
At the wheel for Pakistan, the responsibilities did not hamper Babar’s batting brilliance, even in the spotlight at the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup. Making 68* against India to turn the tournament on its head, Babar made three more fifties across the campaign.
The only player to pass 300 runs for the tournament, doing so at an average of over 60 and at a strike rate 126, Babar was pipped for Player of the Tournament honours by David Warner, who helped claim tournament silverware for Australia.
With another T20 World Cup around the corner next year in Australia, the experience gained in UAE will be invaluable for a skipper in a purple patch with the bat.
Homecoming fun after tricky batting in Bangladesh
Despite a lean trot on tricky batting surfaces in Mirpur, making 7, 1 and 19, Babar led the team to a 3-0 series win against Bangladesh, and pushed on with another 3-0 win at home as captain, hosting the West Indies.
Babar finished the year strong on home soil, not only leading the team to another sweep in the field, but finishing off the series with 79 from 53 balls, striking nine fours and two sixes in the performance.
The knock in Karachi moved him back into top spot, and means Pakistan's captain is No.1 in both T20Is and ODIs, with Australia's Marnus Labuschagne claiming the No.1 spot on the MRF Tyres Test batting rankings.
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