Pakistan's Babar Azam (L) and Sarfaraz Ahmad
Pakistan's Babar Azam (L) and Sarfaraz Ahmad celebrate their victory against New Zealand at Edgbaston in Birmingham. Image Credit: AFP

Manchester: Pakistan’s determination to overcome the odds and stun New Zealand by six wickets at Edgbaston on Wednesday was made possible by Babar Azam, who only a few days back was criticised by former Pakistan pacer Shoaib Akhtar as “not a match winner”.

Not long ago in a post-match press conference, Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur, was also asked why Azam, like Virat Kohli, has not been able to convert his fifties into centuries. Azam silenced all at Edgbaston with a ton and also became the second fastest to reach the 3,000-run mark in ODIs behind Hashim Amla, overtaking the legendary Sir Viv Richards by four innings in the process.

After the win over New Zealand, it was obvious that questions would be posed to Azam on the criticisms levelled against him. “It was on my mind that I have not been able to finish matches,” he said. “In the middle overs when Haris (Sohail) and I were batting, we planned that we will try to carry on the innings, and thankfully I got my century.”

For Azam, it wasn’t an easy knock. “It was a difficult pitch, and spinning a lot,” he added. “(Mohammad) Hafeez and I decided to play off the spinners and then the fast bowlers.”

He then thanked Hafeez for his advice. “Hafeez bhai told me to gauge the pitch and play sensibly. I think this is one of my best knocks because it was a must-win game for us.”

Azam revealed that Pakistan’s attentions are already on winning their next two matches against Bangladesh and Afghanistan. “We are all very focused and want to take it match by match, and hopefully we will qualify,” he said.

Pakistan’s win was vital after their morale-shattering defeat to India and the criticisms against them were pulling them down. Pakistan skipper Sarfaraz Ahmad revealed that video of a fan calling him “a fat pig”, which has gone viral, had upset his wife very much. Even then, after the match, he applauded the fans at Edgbaston for backing him. “Thank you for all the support,” he said. “We hadn’t been fielding well until now. So we worked hard on it during our practice sessions, and it’s good to see the results today.”

Sarfaraz then reminded everyone that they always been fighters. “Whenever the Pakistan team is pushed to the corner, we do well. It’s a great team effort.”

He commended Mohammad Amir for the good start and Shaheen Afridi’s bowling. Praising his batsmen, he said, “Shadab (Khan) played well in the middle overs, and the way Babar and Haris batted was commendable. Babar played one of the best innings I have seen. It was a tricky pitch, and he was keen to bat fifty overs. Credit to Haris as well for the way he handled pressure. It was not easy to face the off-spinner. We are not thinking about the 1992 World Cup (when Pakistan came back from the brink of elimination to lift the trophy), but for sure are taking game one at a time here.”

Pakistan players were thrilled to see the tweet from their Prime Minister Imran Khan, which read: “Congratulations to our cricket team for a great comeback. Congratulations especially to Babar, Haris and Shaheen for their brilliant performances.”