Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has delivered high praise on captain Babar Azam and left-arm pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi, saying the duo’s abilities and form set up a ‘mouth-watering’ series when Australia tour Pakistan for a multi-format series in March. In the ICC Awards, Azam won the Men’s ODI Cricketer of the Year award while Afridi clinched the Sir Garfield Sobers’ Trophy for Men’s Cricketer of the Year.
“The only thing I am disappointed with is it is not a batter - how can these awards go to a fast bowler and not a batter? In all honesty, absolutely very well deserved. It’s an awesome achievement. Now with him, Babar and some of the other fantastic players they’ve got in that Pakistan line-up at the moment it makes for a really mouth-watering series coming up when the Aussies go there,” said Ponting in a chat with former England pacer Isa Guha on the first episode of ICC Review Show.
Ponting went on to recollect how impressive Afridi was despite taking just five wickets in two matches on a tour of Australia in 2019. “He had a really good tour to Australia a couple of summers ago and you could see then - he’s tall, obviously bowls fast, he had the ability to swing the new ball back into the right-handers as well it looked like a really complete package that we hadn’t quite seen the best of yet.”
“We had to do some stuff in a commentary this summer to pick out the top five batters and bowlers, and he wasn’t actually in my top five bowlers then, because he hadn’t played much Test cricket when we picked it. He was someone I brought up at No.6 because I knew about the amount of work, wickets and great games he had behind him coming into December when we picked those groups.”
Ponting further recalled the tour of Australia in 2019 where Azam made a fighting 104 in the second innings of the first Test at Brisbane and followed it up with a 90 in the second Test at Adelaide. “He’s the same as Shaheen. I don’t get to see a lot of these guys outside of when they tour Australia, but when I saw Babar in the second innings in Brisbane in the first Test against Australia, some of the shots that I saw him play on a fast bouncy Brisbane pitch both on the front and back foot – against Hazlewood, Starc and Cummins – it was like, ‘I have heard a lot about him and I have seen a fair bit of his while-ball stuff, but this guy is the real deal’.
Ponting felt Azam would have been in contention for the number one batter spot if he had played Test cricket a little earlier.
“He has been great in T20I cricket in the past as well, hasn’t he? His white-ball cricket has been nothing short of breathtakingly good for the last four-five years. I think I said then that for this guy, the sky is the limit. It’s only a matter of time I felt before he was going to be either the No.1-ranked Test batter in the world or certainly challenging for it. He’s probably challenging for that position right now and probably if he had played a few more Test matches through the last couple of years he’d be knocking the door down for that.”