Ricky Ponting praises star batter Babar Azam

PERTH: Former Australian captain Ricky Ponting hailed star batter Babar Azam, who bagged two major ICC men’s cricket awards, saying he is on the ‘upward curve’ and may end up as Pakistan’s ‘all-time greatest’.

Pakistan skipper Babar, who enjoyed a remarkable year with the bat in all three formats, on Thursday claimed the ICC ODI Men’s Cricketer of the Year Award before getting his hand on the most coveted Sir Garfield Sobers Trophy for the ICC Men’s Cricketer of the Year for 2022.

Speaking on the latest episode of The ICC Review, Ponting heaped praises on Babar, highlighting his sound foundation and adaptability as factors that contributed to his meteoric rise across each format. “Technically, he’s very good,” said the two-time World Cup-winning captain as quoted by ICC.

“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.”

“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.”

Ponting, however, expressed that the right-handed batter was probably not at his peak, adding that “most batters come into their prime in the start of their early thirties.”

“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.”

Babar had an unforgettable year with the bat as he was the only player to breach the 2000-run mark in the calendar year 2022. His 2598 runs from 44 matches came at an average of 54.12, which included eight centuries and 15 fifties.

The 28-year-old, who has been ruling the ODI chart since July 2021, is in the top five rankings across each format while his consistent performances earned him a place in the ICC Test Team of the Year besides leading the ICC ODI Team of the Year for the second time in a row.

Babar’s exceptional batting class is much more than just the numbers as it came with the additional burden of captaining the side in all three formats.

Pakistan claimed 14 wins from 26 matches through 2022, including eight out of nine victories in ODIs, under Babar’s leadership. He also led his team to the T20 World Cup final last year.

Ponting believed Babar had a lot to improve on the captaincy front especially his ability to handle pressure in tense encounters. “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,” said Ponting while admitting “being a captain of the T20 team is never an easy thing to do.”

“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,” he added. Furthermore, the ex-Australian captain opines that the Pakistan skipper may rank among the best cricketers Pakistan has ever produced by the time he ends his career.

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