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Babar Azam: 'This innings holds a lot of meaning for me'

Pakistan's captain was thrilled by the crowd that showed up at the National Stadium to watch the final day unfold

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
16-Mar-2022
Babar Azam has acknowledged that Pakistan's pragmatic approach to the final day in Karachi had been shaped by the magnitude of the target Australia had set them. When the fifth day began, Pakistan needed to survive 90 overs, or, more improbably, score a further 334 runs to gun down the fourth-innings target of 506.
But with the game stretching into the final hour and Babar and Mohammad Rizwan looking fairly comfortable having put on 115 for the fifth wicket, the prospect of a remarkable late dash to the target was beginning to take shape. But Babar and Rizwan appeared to resist the temptation, and while Babar explained that the chase was never quite on, it didn't stop him from taking great pleasure in his knock.
"This innings holds a lot of meaning for me, because the team needed it," he said. "We were realistic about the chase. We wanted to bat normally till tea, and then if we found ourselves in a situation where we could go for the chase, we were good. But we lost wickets, unfortunately, so we didn't really think of the chase. We needed to save the game. If I'd stayed for longer we might have tried to chase it."
When Babar and Faheem Ashraf fell off successive balls, any ideas about a chase were immediately killed off, with Pakistan facing a final-hour battle to stave off defeat. "Rizwan and I were discussing what the situation demanded because the wicket wasn't easy for the new batter," Babar said. "The spinners were getting help. I had belief the way Sajid [Khan] and Nauman [Ali] batted, so I had trust in them to save the game for us."
The pitches for the series have been a perpetual point of focus, with further scrutiny on the Karachi strip after the one in Rawalpindi was rated "below average" after a dull draw that saw just 14 wickets fall over five days. There was more assistance for the bowlers in Karachi, though it was reverse-swing that provided the most salient threat rather than the cracks in the pitch assisting spin. Babar said the conditions were the same for both sides, and thought the pitch had plenty to offer the bowlers.
"You get reverse for the fast bowlers here; they found it and so did we. The spinners found turn, too. I don't think there was a difference in the reverse-swing they got in both innings. They got plenty here, too. There were a lot of soft dismissals in the first innings which can make you think it was reversing a lot. It was happening in the second innings too, but our batters were at their best. You get reverse-swing here in first-class cricket too, so they have an idea how to tackle it. When you're playing against one of the best teams, they'll give you a tough time."
Babar revealed how he had motivated his side after a dispiriting third day, which saw Pakistan bowled out for 148 in 53 overs, giving Australia a 408-run lead. "You get motivation from your teammates," he said. "In the first innings, we didn't bat like we wanted but in the second innings, we had belief that we could save the game. We told the boys 'What's gone is gone and we have to focus on the present.' The veteran players showed their experience. We told each other that ups and downs happen in Tests and to play session by session. I tried to give them confidence. Abdullah Shafique was outstanding in the way he played the new and old ball and the patience he showed."
This tour's hype isn't just about what happens on the field, but also what surrounds it. With Australia in Pakistan for the first time since 1998, a large, frenzied crowd came out to watch Pakistan pursue history, either by chasing down the target or surviving more overs to save a Test than any side since 1939. It embellished an already dramatic day, and its value wasn't lost on the Pakistan captain.
"When you play in front of your crowd and they support you, that feeling is so good I can't explain it," he said. "When the whole stadium backs you, it's brilliant. We're so happy that cricket is back, and we're playing against such a big team here."

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000