Exclusive: I feel proud when they compare me with Kohli, says Babar Azam Filed on June 1, 2021
Pakistan captain Babar Azam is now the world's top-ranked ODI batsman. (AFP)

I am very positive and confident that this year also Karachi Kings will win the PSL title, Babar said

The owner of that gorgeous cover drive, Babar Azam is hoping to drive Karachi Kings to glory when the Pakistan Super League (PSL) resumes in Abu Dhabi later this week.

The 26-year-old player is now in quarantine with the rest of the PSL contingent in Abu Dhabi, but that didn’t stop the world’s top-ranked ODI batsman from taking a trip down memory lane.

In an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, the Pakistan captain opened up on the resumption of the PSL in the UAE, his ambition as the new leader of the national team and the Virat Kohli comparisons he has evoked with his stupendous shot-making.

After a lot of uncertainties, the PSL is finally resuming in Abu Dhabi. How does it feel?

Yes, it feels very good that our league is starting again after lot of hurdles. I am looking forward to the start now.

The weather is going to be hot. Can you please give us an idea how the PSL players are preparing to cope with the weather?

Yes, the weather is now pretty hot. I think we have to take care of ourselves. We need to do as much training as we can in the quarantine. We are all professional cricketers and we all know how to adjust to different conditions. All the players have played here in the past, so we know how to adjust to the conditions.

The PSL has been a great platform for the youngsters. And which are the young Pakistan players that have impressed you the most in recent years?

Yes, a lot of youngsters have emerged, thanks to the PSL and a lot of youngsters have impressed. Players like Haider Ali, Haris Rauf and Faheem Ashraf have come up with a lot of good performances. Many other young players have also emerged. So this PSL is a tournament that gives a lot of opportunities to young players to share the dressing room with senior players and the foreign players. It’s really helpful for them because they get to learn a lot. The youngsters can learn from the senior players and the foreign players and they can ask them about how they approach the game, their routine, their mindset.

Karachi Kings made a good start to the PSL season before the league was suspended. Now as it is starting again, can the Kings defend the title?

The way we (Karachi Kings) started the PSL season, we have gained a lot of momentum from that start. Now we are at the top of the points table. The league is starting again now. So we will try to maintain the same momentum. There are one or two changes to the team. But these are very good changes. Martin Guptill has come to our team. He is one of the best T20 players. And the way he plays, it’s just outstanding. He has a proper T20 style. Whenever he plays, he changes the game like Sharjeel Khan; Sharjeel, you know, also has that ability to change the game when he bats. So I am very positive and confident that this year also Karachi Kings will win the PSL title.

You made your international debut (ODI) in Pakistan. But it was in the UAE that you made your Test debut and you also announced your arrival as a rising star with three straight ODI centuries against the West Indies here. What memories you have of the UAE?

I have a lot of good memories of the UAE, especially, as you mentioned, those three hundreds against the West Indies. That was the turning point in my international career. My confidence level really went up after that because I was struggling a bit before that series. But it’s natural if you are new to international cricket, you can struggle a bit in your first year. But what I learned was that it was important that you don’t repeat the mistakes and work on your weakness because international teams are always prepared to take advantage of your weakness. So, I tried to improve myself and my game as quickly as I can. So, of course, I have lot of good UAE memories, against the West Indies, Sri Lanka and Australia. The conditions are pretty similar to Pakistan if you talk about the wicket, which is little slow. So it’s better when you spend time in the middle and you stay close to the ball (while batting).

Now you have become one of the best batsmen in the world alongside Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson, Joe Root and Steve Smith. You are even the world’s number one ODI batsman in ICC rankings. How does it feel to be among the best?

Thanks to Allah for the respect I have earned in cricket. It’s a matter of great pride that my name is now being taken alongside such big players. As I have said, scoring those three centuries (against the West Indies) was the turning point. My confidence level was very high after that. But my mindset has remained the same. I play every match as if it’s my last match. I have learned a lot by talking to the great players. No one can be perfect, and you want to learn every day. Thanks to Allah and the blessings from the people that my name is being mentioned alongside such big players. I will try to maintain this. I have to remain focused and fit to maintain this level of consistency.

Virat Kohli is already among the greatest players in history. Now fans and the media often compare you with Kohli. You are still very young, compared to Kohli. These comparisons, do they put pressure on you? Or does it inspire you to become an even better cricketer?

Virat Kohli is one of the best players in the world. He has performed everywhere and in big matches. When people compare us, I don’t feel pressure, I feel proud because they are comparing me with such a big player. Personally, I don’t think there should be a comparison, but people do that and I feel happy. So my aim is to perform the way he does and help my team win matches and make Pakistan proud. Look, we are different players. I have my style of playing and he has his style. So I try to perform to the best of my ability.

The cricket world is now in love with your gorgeous cover drive. Was it your favourite shot right from your childhood days?

Yes, I have worked on that (cover drive) right from my early days and I have always loved this shot. But I struggled a lot on this shot at the early stage of my career. I never gave up trying, though. And I improved gradually every day. I also loved this shot because I followed Ab de Villiers a lot in my early days. I loved his cover drive. The way he played it, I tried to copy that. And I practised a lot. Now thanks to Allah that people love my cover drive so much.

At a young age, you have already been given the big responsibility of captaining Pakistan. You have a young team under the guidance of Misbah-ul-Haq. What are your long term goals?

In the past, when I was playing only as a player, I was focused on my batting. Now that I have got the captaincy in all three formats, the mindset is different. I have to take the whole team forward. The responsibility is far bigger now. My mindset is to take the Pakistan team into the top three in all three formats. Also, my aim, of course, is to perform whenever the team needs a big performance to bail them out of a difficult situation. I will always try to support the boys as much as I can. A team can only be built when you back the players. Of course, there will be good days and bad days, good series and bad series. So the main aim is to keep supporting the players, that’s how you build team bonding.

The legendary Wasim Akram is the director of cricket at Karachi Kings. What are the things that you have learned from him?

Wasim bhai, of course, I get opportunities to speak to him. He is one of the legends when it comes to fast bowling. I didn’t see him live, but the videos I have watched, his bowling was just outstanding. It was my dream actually to play against him, but he retired long time ago. Of course, I have learned a lot from him. He talks about how he used to play in his time, his mindset and the importance of remaining positive. He tells us that when he got the ball, he wanted to take the wickets rather than leaving it to others. So that has helped me and inspired me a lot as a batsman. When I am batting, I also want to be that man who finishes matches.


Rituraj Borkakoty

A big fan of the Argentina national football team, Rituraj generally writes on sports. But he deeply cherishes the time he spent with his favourite musician from Assam, India, for an interview. And he loves to bring human interest stories to Khaleej Times readers.

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