Babar Azam © AFP
Babar Azam © AFP

Since the 2009 attack on Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, Pakistan have considered the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as their main abode for home games. Dubai is where Azhar Ali scored his triple ton last year. Abu Dhabi is where Misbah-ul-Haq registered the joint-fastest Test century in 2014. The return of international cricket in Pakistan have got the country elated and also infused in child-like enthusiasm in former cricketers. Zaheer Abbas is no different. However, cricket is returning to the nation when the likes of Misbah and Younis Khan have retired. Yet, Zaheer feels Babar Azam has the potential to carry the legacy of former cricketers at home.

Babar Azam, the next-gen batsman

Azam was on top with his flawless batting in the first T20I against World XI. He slammed his highest T20I score of 86. Terming Azam as the next-gen batsman, Zaheer told Indian Express, “I think Babar Azam could be the future of Pakistan batting across formats. But overall, I’m not satisfied with Pakistan (Test) batting and I hope the players learn the art of staying at the wicket.”

Although Pakistan has played in front of empty stands for 8 years, Zaheer lauded Pakistan’s resilience, “Nothing like playing in front of your home fans, especially in cricket-crazy countries like Pakistan and India. But despite not playing a ‘home’ match for so long, Pakistan climbed to the No. 1 spot in the Test rankings for some period of time. They won the Champions Trophy. These are great achievements.”

Umar Akmal’s behavioural pattern

Umar last played a Test in 2011 against Zimbabwe. His last ODI was against Australia earlier this year where he was decent with the bat while his last T20I series against West Indies; he did not get an opportunity. He could not be part of this historic day and Zaheer cites the reason behind his exclusion, “If Umar is making mistakes and not behaving (properly), in my point of view, there’s no place for him in the team. If they tolerate all these things (disciplinary issues), then there would be more problems. He has to learn how to behave.”

Cricket, Pakistan, the public and security

The Gaddafi Stadium was 80-90 per cent packed as per the sources of PCB on the first two days of World XI tour. However, the public had to go through several security stages before entering the ground. Zaheer feels bilateral series can be conducted with such tight security in place, “Security issues happen all over the world. I think we are ready to organise bilateral series. From public’s point of view also, the stadium was packed for the first two matches. I don’t think the fans see any problems as far as security is concerned.”

The ‘Asian Bradman’ days…

Zaheer is famously called the Asian Bradman for his habit of consistent scoring. Zaheer retired with 5,062 runs in Tests at 44.79from 78 matches. Zaheer recalled the days of playing in front of packed stadiums, “When I used to play, the grounds used to be full not only in Pakistan but all over the world. During our days, we used to play Test cricket mostly and technique was very important. It was important to stay at the wicket for long and at the same time, fans wanted fast batting also. I used to do both, so fans liked my batting.”