Asia Cup 2023: Why Pakistan’s Babar Azam looks up to Virat Kohli for inspiration


Pakistan's Babar Azam plays a shot (ANI)

Sri Lanka show their class at home as Pakistan thrash Nepal in the opener

Our Bureau

Sri Lanka defeated Bangladesh in their campaign opener at the ongoing Asia Cup 2023 and broke their own record to establish their longest winning streak in ODI history. This win over Bangladesh, a team with who they have given some thrilling matches over the years, is their 11th successive win in ODIs, which is their longest winning streak in ODIs.

Their previous longest ODI winning streak was from February 2004 and July 2004, in which they won 10 matches and between December 2013 and May 2014, in which they won 13 matches too.

Australia has the longest winning streak in ODIs, with them winning 21 straight matches between January 2003 and May 2003.

They also bowled out their opponent for the 11th straight game, the highest by a team in consecutive ODI innings in history. The previous best was by Australia in 2009-2010, during which they bowled out their opponent 10 times in succession.

Electing to bat first, Bangladesh sunk to 36/3 in 10.4 overs. A 59-run partnership between Najmul Shanto and Towhid Hridoy helped Bangladesh gain temporary relief. However, the game changed after Matheesha Pathirana dismissed wicketkeeper-batter Mushfiqur Rahim, reducing Bangladesh to 127/5. From then on, nobody except Shanto (89 in 122 balls, with seven fours) put up a fight and Bangladesh was bundled out for 164 in 42.4 overs.

Pathirana was the pick of the bowlers for SL, taking 4/32 in 7.4 overs. Maheesh Theekshana took 2/19 in his eight overs. Dhananjaya de Silva, Dunith Wellalege, and skipper Dasun Shanaka took a wicket each.

In the chase of 165, SL lost two quick wickets in the form of their openers Dimuth Karunaratne and Pathum Nissanka and was reduced to 15/2. After a brief partnership between Kusal Mendis and Sadeera Samarawickrama, SL was given another jolt as Mendis was dismissed by Shakib. SL was 43/3.

Earlier in Multan, an all-round display by Pakistan kicked off its Asia Cup campaign in style as centuries by skipper Babar Azam, Iftikhar Ahmed and fiery spells by Shadab Khan and Haris Rauf helped them crush Nepal by 238 runs in the tournament opener on Wednesday.

In the chase of 343 runs, Kushal Bhurtel made his intentions clear with boundaries on the first two balls. However, Shaheen Shah Afridi, ever-consistent with the new ball, removed Bhurtel (8) and skipper Rohit Paudel for a duck, reducing Nepal to 10/2 in the first over.

Nepal touched the 100-run mark in 22.5 overs.

Shadab picked his third wicket, dismissing Kushal Malla for six, with a catch by Iftikhar at mid-off. Nepal was 104/9.  Shadab got his fourth scalp, trapping Lalit Rajbanshi lbw for zero. Nepal was 104 all out and lost the match by 238 runs.

Shadab was the pick of the bowlers for Pakistan, taking 4/27. Haris Rauf (2/16), Shaheen (2/27) also picked up two wickets. Also, Nawaz got a wicket.

Choosing to bat first, Pakistan did not get to an ideal start as their opening batter Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq were dismissed at 14 and 5 respectively within seven overs. Pakistan sunk to 25/2 in 6.1 overs.

Babar Azam becomes first captain to score 150

Pakistan stalwart Babar Azam scripted history on Wednesday by achieving a milestone by becoming the first captain to score 150 in the Asia Cup tournament.

In the opening match of the Asia Cup between Pakistan and Nepal, Pakistan captain Babar smashed a stunning 151 off 131 balls to provide his team with a massive 342/6 total in Multan.

With his innings, he placed himself second to play the best knock in the Asia Cup. Indian batter Virat Kohli still holds the record for scoring the highest knock of 183 in the tournament. Babar surpassed Mushfiqur Rahim of Bangladesh, who scored 144 earlier.

Babar is now just one century away from equalizing with Saeed Anwar on scoring the greatest number of centuries for Pakistan in a one-day international. The former Pakistan batter Saeed has smashed 20 hundred in his ODI career while Babar is just one century behind as he has 19 centuries under his belt.

The Pakistan skipper also joined the elite club of the highest hundred-getters for Pakistan in all formats. He became the fourth player with the most centuries along with Saeed Anwar, Javed Miandad and Azhar Ali. He has 31 centuries so far in all the formats. Younis Khan is the leading Pakistan batter with 41 hundred.

Fiery centuries from captain Babar Azam and Iftikhar Ahmed powered Pakistan to give a target of 343 to Nepal.

Babar praises Virat Kohli

Pakistan skipper Babar Azam was elated at being praised by India star Virat Kohli and detailed the mutual respect that exists between them, saying that praise from someone like Virat gives him confidence.

Kohli had conveyed his admiration and recalled his first meeting with Pakistan’s star batter Babar Azam in an interaction with Star Sports last year.

“I saw a lot of regard and respect from him from day one, and that has not changed. Regardless of the fact he’s probably the top batsman in the world across formats, performing so consistently and rightly so. He has amazing talent and I have always enjoyed watching him play,” said Virat as quoted by ICC.

“So that [Babar’s attitude] has not changed because he is performing now, and he is coming into his own. I do not see his attitude or approach changing towards me,” he added.

Babar reacted to Virat’s comments recently on Star Sports, and discussed Virat’s influence on his game.

“It feels really good. When someone talks about you like this. And what Kohli has said, has made me very proud and happy,” he said.

“Such praise gives you confidence. When I met him in 2019, he was at his peak. He is still at his peak. I wanted to take something from his game. I learnt a lot from him. He gave a detailed explanation to all my questions. That helped me. When you do such things for each other, it feels really good,” he added.

Both batters have excelled in the ODI format over the years. Babar, whose most recent knock was a match-winning 151 against Nepal, averages 59.47 in the format with 5,353 runs to his name. He has 19 ODI hundreds, the second most for Pakistan in the format.

Virat, on the other hand, has 12,898 runs at an average of 57.32. He has 46 ODI hundreds to his name, which is the second most in the format’s history.

Pakistan, India and Nepal are in Group A while Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are in Group B. The tournament will follow a hybrid model with Pakistan hosting four matches across two venues and Sri Lanka hosting the remaining games. The six group-stage matches will be followed by the Super Fours beginning September 6.

“I strive for betterment every day”: Kohli

Star India batter Virat Kohli has said that as a player he strives for betterment every day and performance becomes a byproduct of the mindset while also noting that there is no limit to excellence.

In his interaction on Star Sports on “Follow the Blues”, Virat delved into his quest for self-improvement and continuous growth. ‘King Kohli’, as he is known to his fans, will be seen in action during the Asia Cup campaign opener against arch-rivals Pakistan on Saturday.

“I only try to understand how I can better my game. Every day, every practice session, every year, every season. This is what has helped me play this well for so long and perform for my team. I do not think you can perform consistently without that mindset, because if your performance is your only goal, then you can be satisfied and stop working hard,” he said.

“My motto has always been to ‘Chase betterment’, not excellence I would say, because I do not know what the definition of excellence is. There is no limit to it, there is no set achievement that if you reach a certain stage, you have reached excellence.

“I think I strive for betterment every day, so that is a better word to use and yes, performance obviously becomes a byproduct because your mindset is ‘How do I make my team win from this position? This will make me a better player or this will get my team in a better position if I perform this way. So, this has always been my mindset,” he concluded.

Virat has been in good form this year. In 10 ODIs this year, he has scored 427 runs at an average of 53.37, with two tons and a fifty and a best of 166 against Sri Lanka.

In 17 international matches across formats this year in 19 innings, he has scored 984 runs at an average of 54.66 with four centuries and two fifties. His best score is 186 against Australia in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

He also had a good IPL 2023. Though his team Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) could not reach the playoffs, he scored 639 runs in 14 innings at an average of 53.25, with a strike rate of 139.25 and scored two centuries and six fifties in his 14 innings. He ended the tournament as the fourth-highest run-getter.

With 12,898 runs in 275 matches at an average of 57.32, with 46 centuries and 65 fifties, fans will be expecting a lot from Virat during the Asia Cup and World Cup.

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