He was the fresh-faced 15-year-old who faced off against Shoaib Akhtar in the nets, went on to become the highest-ranked T20 batsman in the world, and was elevated to national hero after masterminding Pakistan’s rare victory over India.
One commentator compared the national cricket captain to emperor Zahiruddin Babar, who conquered India in the 16th century and founded the Mughal Dynasty, in the breathless aftermath of that 10-wicket win over their fiercest rivals at the World Cup.
Fortunately for Pakistan, Babar Azam, a quiet 27-year-old, has his feet firmly planted on the ground.
He has led his team to five wins in five games at the T20 tournament, and they face Australia in the semi-finals on Thursday in Dubai. Along the way, he has amassed a tournament-high 264 runs.
On Sunday, he hit his fourth half-century of the competition against Scotland.
Everything began with a brilliant unbeaten 68 against India.
This innings, along with fellow opener Mohammad Rizwan’s 79 not out, gave Pakistan their first World Cup victory over India in 13 World Cup matches.
He then scored 51 against Afghanistan and 70 against Namibia, helping him reclaim the top spot in the international T20 rankings.
“Obviously, it’s a proud moment,” Babar stated.
“The goal-oriented mindset and hard work are driving this, and I want to improve day by day.”
Babar also ended Indian maestro Virat Kohli’s three-year reign as number one ODI batsman in April this year, scoring 103, 32, and 94 in a three-match series in South Africa that Pakistan won 2-1.
Babar rose from humble beginnings to become a YouTube sensation at the age of 13.
In October 2007, while working as a ballboy at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium, he confidently pouched a six from South Africa’s JP Duminy, which had been launched long on.
Slow-motion replays and praise from TV commentators who praised his nonchalance provided Babar with unexpected airtime.
His abilities were obvious, but his father, Azam Siddique, was determined that the adolescent Babar did not get ahead of himself.
“I consider it a blessing that my father has been so supportive of me,” he said.
“To be honest, he still chastises me if I don’t play well or get out by taking a risky shot.”
His stroke play drew attention from the under-15 to the under-19 levels.
Mudassar Nazar, a former Pakistan opener, was particularly impressed when he was appointed head of the national cricket academy in 1999.
“I was in the Under-15 camp when they (the national team) invited us for practice and Mudassar was very kind to choose me to face Shoaib’s bowling,” Babar recalled.
Shoaib Akhtar, the former ‘Rawalpindi Express,’ famously bowled the fastest recorded delivery (161.3 km/h) during the 2003 World Cup.
“Shoaib looked surprised but encouraged me,” Babar said.
“He told me, ‘Kid, you’ve got to defend the ball.'” ‘I’ll bowl it up.’ I drove him after two or three deliveries.
“He became irritated and asked for a new ball, bowling a bouncer.” I ducked and watched from the side as Mudassar called me back (from the nets).”
Shoaib, who is now retired, recalled the encounter last year.
“He was talented then, and he is talented now,” he said, “and he faced me quite bravely in the nets.”
Former Australian all-rounder Tom Moody, who has coached in the Pakistan T20 Super League, believes Babar will surpass even India captain Virat Kohli in terms of stardom.
“If you think Kohli is good, watch Babar Azam bat,” Moody observed last year.
“I almost put Babar in the same category as Kohli.” We talk about how Kohli is a batsman who is easy on the eyes.
“However, if you think Kohli is interesting to watch, take a look at Babar Azam.” “He’s one of a kind.”