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Babar Azam revels in his top order conquering South Africa

'Throughout the tournament, our batsmen did well, especially Fakhar [Zaman] and Imam[-ul Haq]'

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Babar Azam poses with the series trophy, South Africa vs Pakistan, 3rd ODI, Centurion, April 7, 2021

Babar Azam poses with the series trophy  •  AFP via Getty Images

Amid all the other accolades that Babar Azam and Misbah-ul-Haq will invite for their cricketing careers, what happened at SuperSport Park today led to a record that binds the two men together in a rare accomplishment. The 28-run win in the third ODI means they are the only pair to have led a Pakistani side to an ODI series win in South Africa, with Azam following in the footsteps of his coach's efforts in 2013.
It isn't just a rare accomplishment for Pakistan. They are just the second side to have prised an ODI trophy away from South African shores twice; Australia being the other. So it was understandable that Babar grinned from ear to ear post-match, declaring he had great confidence in his side, and how they had executed their game plans.
"It was the responsibility of the top order to take our innings deep, which we did," he said. "Throughout the tournament, our batsmen did well, especially Fakhar [Zaman] and Imam[-ul Haq], and we wanted to continue our momentum. We wanted to finish the innings off and I was happy to be there till the end.
"I'm very confident with the side. I'm very happy with the top order performing in a difficult place like South Africa. It gives us a lot of confidence, and we want to keep this momentum going."
While it might be churlish to play down the ODI success, Pakistan will acknowledge South Africa were severely hampered by the absence of players who have flown off to the IPL, as well as the late injury to Rassie van der Dussen which meant the hosts were forced to make seven changes to their starting XI. Pakistan, meanwhile, have problems of their own in the middle order, which Azam openly acknowledged, revealing the surprise inclusion of Sarfaraz Ahmed for the first time in 15 months was an attempt to mitigate that.
"I accept our middle order struggled, but I don't think it was as bad as people made out. There's a gap in our middle order where we are missing a particular kind of player we are trying to fill, which is why we brought Sarfaraz in to try and plug that weakness. We wanted to utilise the experience that was on the bench, so that's why we brought Sarfaraz in."
Babar went on to give Sarfaraz a complete vote of confidence, and suggested he could be involved more regularly in future. "Sarfaraz is with us because we trust him," he said. "In ODI cricket, we'll try and utilise him as much as we can as wicketkeeper and batsman, because at No. 5, you need to move the game along, which we believe he can do. The middle order was struggling, and while it didn't come off for Sarfaraz today, everyone played a part in a very good series deciding win."
It was a day of personal achievement for Azam, too, whose innings of 94 ensured he pipped Indian batsman Virat Kohli to top spot in the ICC ODI rankings. Azam has enjoyed a fruitful series, finishing as the second-highest run-getter over the three ODIs, behind only Zaman. He insisted, however, that his focus remained squarely on the side, and the four-match T20I series that follows.
"I'm thankful to God. I just like to enjoy my cricket and do what's best for the team. We'll now sit down and plan for the T20I series and what our combinations there need to be. That involves a lot of discussion among ourselves, and hopefully we'll be successful there, too."

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