Lahore: Rawalpindi will be in focus once again from Friday when Pakistan take on Bangladesh in the first Test of the two-match series. The last time the city came under spotlight was in December when Pakistan hosted Sri Lanka to end the 10-year-long drought of Test cricket in the country.
Babar Azam, the darling of Pakistan fans, received a resounding welcome when he arrived at the crease for the first time in Pakistan whites on the morning of the fifth and final day with the sun basking in full glory at the Pindi Cricket Stadium. “It was a totally out-of-this world experience for me as the crowd chanted my name when I was walking out to bat,” Babar said on Tuesday. “When your home crowd cheers for you, you want to give your everything to it.”
The year 2019 turned out to be a remarkable 12-month period for Babar. Like his run in international white-ball cricket, his Test batting form surged. Three of his four Test centuries came last year and overall he had the fifth best average (68.44) among the batsmen to have scored more than 500 runs in the longest format of the game.
Babar struggled to get his rhythm going early on but the presence of Abid, a veteran of first-class cricket who was playing his maiden Test innings and scored a century, at the other end helped. “It took me two-three overs to settle at the crease after, which I planned my innings. I usually go and play my strokes freely, but that wasn’t happening since the ball was not coming on. I had a chat with Abid Ali, who was batting before me, and he told me to take my time,” he said.
Once settled, runs started to flow off Babar’s bat. It was when he neared the 50-run mark he realised that he could have a go at the century but a brief chat with the umpire after tea fazed the right-hander. “I was playing on 48 when I realised that I can get it [his first century on home soil]. But, when I went in after tea, the umpire told me that the sun sets early here so we might have to call off the day an hour earlier.
“From that instance, I had my eyes on the sun as I went about my innings. As it started to go down I told Abid ‘it is going down and the umpires will call stumps any time now’ and I panicked a little at that stage. You tend to make mistakes when you panic, but I give full credit to Abid, who kept assuring me that I will achieve my goal and that kept me from making any mistakes.”
Once in his 90s, Babar pierced the off-side field twice with scintillating strokes, the last one granting him the century. After punching Dilruwan Perera through covers, he had his eyes fixated at the ball as it travelled to the rope. The crowd erupted in joy and Babar roared and punched the air.
“I tried to stay calm and build my innings. I keenly watched the ball go to the fence and did my celebrations once it hit the rope. You only relax once you have achieved the goal for which you have planned meticulously. So, after the ball hit the boundary, I unwound myself and celebrated my century.
“That moment was an outstanding one for me because Test cricket was being played in Pakistan after such a long time and I scored the century in the first match.”