Karachi is the city of the unexpected. The people who live here are struck by surprises on a daily basis in the form of sudden and senseless traffic jams, mugging on a full of life and full of lights road and sometimes in a good manner too, where a light breeze takes the pain of the warm weather away for an hour or at least a few minutes.
On Tuesday, when everyone was expecting the expected in the city, and the National Stadium of Karachi, where Australia are currently playing Pakistan in a Test after a 24-year-long gap, something truly unexpected happened. And it wasn’t the magnitude of the event which was surprising. Actually, it was the sheer audacity of the doer to do what no one had even wondered he could do.
Babar Azam, captain in all formats for Pakistan, was asked to put up a solid defense against one of the world’s best bowling sides on a day four pitch, where spin and reverse swing were both being used against the hosts. If the toss had gone the other way, it would have been the Australians batting to try and save the Test, however, Pakistan themselves fell into the ditch they had dug for the visitors.
So what does one do when their back is against the wall? It is a simple equation to be honest; you fight or you flight, and Babar picked up his willow to fight. He had to fight the naysayers who were questioning his captaincy credentials after the drawn Pindi Test and the first innings collapse in the second Test. He was up against the best combination of pace and spin that Australia’s bowling arsenal had. He had to carry a youngster, Abdullah Shafique, with him, give him confidence to stay on the crease and keep his comrade calm so as to avoid any unwanted aggression which may result in an initiation of a batting collapse.
But most of all, he had to fight the Pakistani instinct to go into a shell in such moments. A decade and more worth of data will surely suggest that whenever Pakistan had tried to save a Test by blocking, they had lost comparatively more wickets and matches. Moreover, Babar must’ve seen the fates of opener Imamul Haq and one-down Azhar Ali, who both went for defense rather than offence and lost their wickets. Only Babar can tell what he was thinking before he came out to bat, but boy did he come out swinging.
While Pakistan could hit only 16 fours in the first innings, Babar alone took charge of the boundary-scoring and hit 12 fours before stumps on day four in the second innings. In the context of match and compared to Australia’s batting, this may seem a worthless stat, but when compared to the other Pakistani batters, Babar was driving at 100mph, while others were riding bicycles, with safety tires on.
And if all his sensible shot-making and clever blocking wasn’t enough, he took a risk, when on 99 exactly, to show that he wasn’t going to get nervous in the nineties and let Australia take advantage. Instead, he played a sweep shot over the short fine leg fielder to exude confidence.
And then came the celebration.
A loud roar while approaching the umpire’s end, followed by a calm helmet removal and the trademark bat raise was as majestic as any Pakistani batter can ever offer. But there was an addition and it speaks volume about what kind of a player Babar is and also what he wants to become.
Babar looked at the dressing room, staring into the eyes of his teammates and probably into the souls of his haters, and then he signaled with his arms that ‘I am here to stay’. The statement couldn’t have been clearer.
Come Wednesday, maybe Babar loses his wicket early on day five and maybe Pakistan lose the Test against Australia, but the aggressive fight shown by him has set a clear example for his successors that going down fighting is way better than dying in a hole.