Babar’s best yet to come: Mickey Arthur
Babar Azam in action on Sunday. (AFP Image)

Coach Mickey Arthur was high on praise for Babar Azam even though the batsman’s 90 could not prevent Pakistan from going down to South Africa by seven runs. Pakistan’s long streak of T20I series wins, which started after the World T20 in 2016 came to a screeching halt after South Africa took the series 2-0 with one match remaining.

Needing 189 to win, Pakistan looked on course until Babar was dismissed off the first ball of the 17th over, after which a collapse triggered which saw the visitors lose the next six wickets for just 34 runs. Despite Babar already averaging over 55 in T20Is and being the No. 1-ranked batsman in the format, Arthur feels the world is yet to see the best of him.

“I have never doubted Babar. I said two years ago that he was going to be that good,” Arthur said after the match. “The exciting thing is that we haven’t seen the best of him yet. He is going to get better and better. There were always question marks on Babar’s ability to perform outside subcontinent. He has been unbelievable on this tour and he has put those questions to rest.”

Starting off as a middle-order batsman, Babar first opened under Arthur during the Pakistan Super League in 2016. Since, Babar has turned into one of Pakistan’s finest batsmen of the current generation and has shown potential of coming close to the likes of Kane Williamson, Joe Root and perhaps even Virat Kohli.

“Two years ago when I saw him in the nets I said that he was going to be as good as Virat Kohli. From a young boy back then he has developed into a man now. He has got stronger and fitter. And, I certainly think he is going to be in the top five in the world across all formats very, very soon.”

Reflecting on the loss, Arthur felt Pakistan were average on the field, but took nothing away from the batsmen for their herculean effort. Babar and Hussain Talat added 102 runs for the second wicket but the fact that Pakistan had conceded almost 190 runs promises to ring some alarm bells in the camp. Having started slowly, South Africa picked up steam in the final passage of their innings with stand-in captain David Miller hammering 65 off 29 balls. Usman Shinwari conceded 63 off his four overs while Hasan Ali leaked 48.

“To be brutally honest with ourselves, I think we batted brilliantly but bowled poorly as a unit apart from Imad Wasim [who returned 1 for 9 in four overs]. We did not execute our plans. I think we gave away 64 runs off the short balls when the plan was to bowl full and wicket-to-wicket. The execution in the last over particularly was poor,” Arthur pointed out.

Arthur credited South Africa for bowling well in the latter half of the second innings, while expression disappointment over Pakistan’s series loss.

“They [South Africa] bowled the second ten overs better than the first ten,” Arthur said. “They got it right by taking the pace off the ball. For a neutral it has been two hell of a good games. But, for us it hasn’t been good. We need to reflect and move on. The key is that we gave younger players opportunities to grow in pressure situations. That certainly is a win for us.

“Apart from the last over we were good. There were little moments in the first four games [ODIs] where both sides could’ve won. Our one-day cricket is good though. You’ve got to understand that we were outside our conditions. I am disappointed that we had not lost a T20I series in the last 11. We are a side that really pride on its cricket. So, this defeat is disappointing.”