Pakistan

Exclusive: Pakistan duo lauded by Ponting

The ICC Review

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Cricket legend Ricky Ponting has delivered high praise for a pair of Pakistan 2021 ICC Awards winners and says Shaheen Shah Afridi and Babar Azam’s abilities and form set up a “mouth-watering” series when Australia tour Pakistan in March.

The ICC Awards 2021 Winners – Complete List

Afridi was recently named the Sir Garfield Sobers' Trophy winner for ICC Men's Cricketer of the Year while Azam won the ICC Men's ODI Cricketer of the Year award.

Having watched them closely when Pakistan toured Australia in 2019, Ponting shared his thoughts on what made them stand out two years ago and their evolution as players since then.

Both Azam and Afridi were at the top of their game in 2021, playing a vital role in Pakistan's sensational run into the semi-finals of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup.

While Afridi's exploits across formats were unparalleled, Azam shone with the bat in the 50-over format, where he is currently the top-ranked batter in the MRF Tyres ICC Rankings.

Video cwc19 04 Feb 22
The ICC Review | Ponting on Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi's form

Shaheen Shah Afridi – The complete package

When Afridi toured Australia in 2019, he was only 19 years old, and finished the series with just five wickets across two Tests. Despite that, he still made an impression on Ponting.

With 78 wickets in 36 matches at an average of just 22.20, Afridi was the highest wicket-taker in 2021 across formats. He played a starring role in Pakistan’s first-ever World Cup triumph over India at the 2021 ICC Men's T20 World Cup, accounting for the big wickets of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli.

His Test numbers were staggering – in just nine matches he picked up 47 wickets at an average of 17.06.

Video cwc19 24 Jan 22
The Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Player of the Year: Shaheen Afridi

A two-time winner of the Sir Garfield Sobers' Trophy for ICC Men's Cricketer of the Year himself, Ponting called Afridi 'a complete package', and commended his ability to swing the ball at pace.   

"The only thing I am disappointed with is it is not a batter – how can these awards go to a fast bowler and not a batter?" Ponting asked with a chuckle in the first episode of The ICC Review with Isa Guha.

"In all honesty, absolutely very well deserved. He had a really good tour to Australia a couple of summers ago and you could see then – he's tall, obviously bowls fast, he had the ability to swing the new ball back into the right-handers as well … it looked like a really complete package that we hadn't quite seen the best of yet. 

Video cwc19 24 Oct 21
KL Rahul bowled by Shaheen Afridi beauty

"We had to do some stuff in commentary this summer to pick out the top five batters and bowlers, and he wasn't actually in my top five bowlers then, because he hadn't played much Test cricket when we picked it.

"He was someone I brought up at No.6 because I knew about the amount of work, wickets and great games he had behind him coming into December when we picked those groups.

"It's an awesome achievement. Now with him, Babar and some of the other fantastic players they've got in that Pakistan line-up at the moment it makes for a really mouth-watering series coming up when the Aussies go there."

The limitless potential of Babar Azam

Despite featuring in just six ODI in 2021, Azam took home the ICC Men's ODI Cricketer of the Year Award on the back of some sensational performances, beating off competition from Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, South Africa batter Janneman Malan and Ireland opener Paul Stirling. 

Azam finish the year with 405 runs that came at an average of 67.50. His knock of 158, though coming in a losing cause, was a lesson in building an ODI innings. Taking 72 balls to bring up his fifty, he put his foot on the accelerator in the second half of the innings, finishing with a career-best score that came in just 139 balls.

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ICC Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year: Babar Azam acceptance speech

Ponting recalled the tour of Australia in 2019 where Azam made a fighting century in the second innings of the first Test and followed it up with a 90 in the second match.

"He (Babar Azam) has been great in T20I cricket in the past as well, hasn't he? His white-ball cricket has been nothing short of breathtakingly good for the last four-five years," said Ponting.

"He's the same as Shaheen. I don't get to see a lot of these guys outside of when they tour Australia, but when I saw Babar in the second innings in Brisbane in the first Test against Australia, some of the shots that I saw him play on a fast bouncy Brisbane pitch – both on the front and back foot - against Hazlewood, Starc and Cummins - it was like, 'I have heard a lot about him and I have seen a fair bit of his while-ball stuff, but this guy is the real deal’.

"I think I said then that for this guy, the sky is the limit. It's only a matter of time I felt before he was going to be either the No.1-ranked Test batter in the world or certainly challenging for it.

Video cwc19 01 Nov 21
Babar Azam: pride of Pakistan

"He's probably challenging for that position right now and probably if he had played a few more Test matches through the last couple of years he'd be knocking the door down for that. 

"He's a beautiful player, simple as that. The thing I always look for with these younger type of batters is if they can play well off the back foot in Australia, and particularly through the off-side with a straight bat - which is probably an area that Joe Root hasn't quite got on top of just yet and why he hasn't made those big scores in Australia.

"Babar did that and hit on the front foot back down the ground as well. These are just things that I look for as markers and indicators in touring batters when they come to Australia and Babar he ticked both those boxes.”

Australia’s tour of Pakistan commences on March 4 with the first of three Tests, ahead of the limited-overs leg, comprising three ODIs and one T20I, in Rawalpindi.

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