ICC Hall of Famer Ricky Ponting believes the cricket world has yet to see the best of Babar Azam, who claimed two ICC Awards for his efforts in 2022.
Babar took out both the major men’s cricket award, the Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy, as well as the Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year in the 2022 ICC Awards, beating competitive fields in both categories.
Speaking on The ICC Review, Ponting led the chorus of praise for Babar, citing the Pakistan skipper’s textbook base and his ability to adjust in different conditions as keys to his success.
“Technically, he’s very good,” said Ponting.
“He plays spin bowling very well, he plays fast bowling really well, and he’s been able to adapt to different conditions across the world - which is what separates the great players from the good players.
“To be able to be dominant in different conditions (to the ones) you’re brought up in, I’ve seen him first-hand be able to do that.
“The great players are also very strong mentally. You’ve only got to look at when he plays, how long he bats for in Test matches, how he controls the innings in one-day games, how he’s sort of got the ability to go up and down the gears as a batsman when the game and the situation needs him to.”
Babar’s numbers are excellent reading across all three international formats. In 2022, Babar amassed 1,184 Test runs at a tick under 70, 679 at 85 in ODI cricket, and led his side to the T20 World Cup semi-final in Australia, making 735 runs at a strike rate of 123 across the year in T20I play.
For many, those figures would be the ceiling but Ponting thinks there’s more to come.
“He’s probably not (at his peak). Most batters come into their prime in the start of their early thirties,” he said.
“You’re sort of working on your game and improving your game right through to a certain point. And that for most guys is it. You look at where Steve Smith and (David) Warner and those guys have been. Steve Smith is probably playing as well as he’s ever played now, along with guys like Kane Williamson as well in their early thirties.
“So I think Babar’s still got a little bit of improvement to come, which is a pretty scary thought with what he’s been able to do, pretty much across all three formats over the last three, four years. I love watching him play. I think there’s some room for improvement, let’s hope we see it.”
What makes Babar’s record more remarkable is he has cashed in all while under the burden of captaincy.
On top of his prolific run total, Pakistan won eight of nine matches in ODI cricket last year, with a record of 14 wins in 26 through 2022.
Whilst leading Pakistan reached the semi-finals of a second consecutive T20 World Cup, Ponting feels there are creases to iron out on the leadership front, though he tips Babar to learn from every situation he finds himself in.
“I must admit he looked like he got a little bit flustered at times at the T20 World Cup, certainly the game against India when things got really tight at the end. You could see a few of the senior players, Shadab Khan in particular, going over to him and trying to settle him down and just make him think a little bit clearer,” Ponting said.
“But that’s the T20 game. Being a captain of the T20 team is never an easy thing to do, especially in a World Cup, and especially in a moment that was as big as that one was when things were getting really tight.”
“I’m sure with a bit more experience under his belt, like he’s done with his batting, I’m sure he’ll find the right way to lead and be a very successful captain of Pakistan.”
So how far can Babar go in the context of Pakistan greats? Ponting believes there’s no reason why he can’t be stood at the very top, even in a pantheon of such greats.
“He’s on the upward curve now to maybe go down as the all-time greatest. I know there’s Inzamam (ul-Haq) and Younis Khan and those sorts of guys who’ve got more runs than him.
“By the time he’s finished, his numbers I’m sure will stack up along with the very best Pakistan has produced, which will be great for him, but also all the cricket fans around the world who enjoy watching him play.”