Exclusive with Babar Azam: We have turned a corner in India-Pakistan games

Pakistan had lost all their World Cup matches to bitter rivals India in 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2015 and 2019 (50 overs)

Pakistan skipper Babar Azam (left) with Indian captain Rohit Sharma during the DP World Asia Cup in Dubai. — AFP
Pakistan skipper Babar Azam (left) with Indian captain Rohit Sharma during the DP World Asia Cup in Dubai. — AFP

By Shahid Hashmi

Published: Wed 7 Sep 2022, 10:52 AM

Last updated: Wed 7 Sep 2022, 11:13 AM

Until October 24, 2021, Pakistan had not beaten India in 12 ICC event matches. That stretched back to the 1992 World Cup held in Australia.

Pakistan had lost all their World Cup matches to bitter rivals India in 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003, 2011, 2015 and 2019 (50 overs). The 1996 loss was the most bitter when Pakistan captain Wasim Akram was accused of feigning a shoulder injury and received death threats. Then when the Twenty20 World Cup began, Pakistan lost twice in the inaugural 2007 edition. All the matches in the 2012, 2014 and 2016 editions were also lost, making it 12-0 in India's favour in ICC events.

But a young team led by Babar Azam created history and that first win came in Dubai. It was a dominating victory by 10 wickets and it started with the fourth ball dismissal of Rohit Sharma by ace quick Shaheen Shah Afridi. Shaheen accounted for KL Rahul as well as Virat Kohli as India were restricted to 151-7. Babar and Rizwan made it a one-sided chase as the Indian bowling attack was put to the sword and Pakistan won with 13 balls to spare, without losing a wicket.

When the DP World Asia Cup began in Dubai, the Pakistan team knew how to beat their arch-rivals. The August 28 game went to the wire and although India won by five wickets, there was praise for Pakistan's fight from all quarters.

A week later, last Sunday, Pakistan clinched the second game by the same margin -- five wickets. It was another last over thriller and the target for the last over was seven this time too. Pakistan won with a ball to spare.

So how come Pakistan won two out of three games in under 11 months? Babar Azam put it down to easing of the pressure.

"All India-Pakistan games are high pressure games but in the last one year we have learnt how to ease down the pressure, how to handle that pressure and results are there," Babar told select reporters on Tuesday.

"What we have learnt is how to handle that pressure and how to take less pressure. That has worked. If you see we fought till the fourth ball of the last over in the first game by taking the game deep. You need to learn to make progress and we are a team in progress. This victory over India will raise our confidence not only in the remaining games of the Asia Cup, but also in the coming World Cup."

For Babar the aim is to win the trophy, which will be his first in a three-year captaincy career.

"Of course, the task is always to win the trophy and we will do our best to win the Asia Cup," asserts Babar. "The best thing about this team is that players are taking responsibilities. If I am not scoring runs then others are contributing. If bowlers are not doing well, then batters compensate and win us games. If batters do not meet the task, then bowlers are taking responsibilities. Everyone is supporting everyone. Our middle order was not getting chances but in the last two games we won the games because of our middle order.

"I am not scoring runs but I know that others will make up for that," said Babar who is having a lean Asia Cup with scores of nine, 10 and 14. "This is part and parcel of the game but I am not worried."

Babar not scoring runs is a blessing in disguise for the Pakistan team. They were labelled as a 'one batter team" and "one bowler team" but with Shaheen Shah Afridi out and Babar in a lean patch, the team has proved its potential without the big guns performing.

Babar singled out his opening partner Mohammad Rizwan as the main motivator in the team, convincing the players to believe in themselves.

"He (Rizwan) is a different character," said Babar. "I have not seen a character like Rizwan. His belief in Almighty Allah is unparalleled. He doesn't think good or bad but he thinks positively and that helps others as well. His belief is infectious."

With his credentials as one of world's best batsmen already established, Babar is on the way to becoming a more shrewd and mellowed captain. He was criticised for not killing a game when things are under control.

"Yes, I assess myself after every game," said Babar. "It's a learning process which never ends. You can't become a good captain by winning, say nine or 10 games. It's a process and I want to keep learning and keep improving. "

That said, sky's the limit and winning trophies are goals for Babar and Pakistan.

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