How Babar Azam raced against time for his first Test century on home soil

Rawalpindi will be in focus once again from February 7 as Pakistan take on Bangladesh in the first Test of the two-match series.

The last time the city came under the spotlight was in December 2019 when Pakistan hosted Sri Lanka to end the 10-year-long drought of Test cricket in the country.

Read more: Pakistan bag victory against Sri Lanka in first home Test series in a decade

Cricket fans turned out in large numbers to cheer their heroes even when the match was certain to end in a draw due to intermittent rain which caused the entire fourth day to be abandoned.

Babar Azam, the darling of Pakistani fans, received a resounding welcome when he arrived at the crease for the first time in white on the morning of the fifth and final day at the Pindi Cricket Stadium.

“It was an out of world experience for me as the crowd chanted my name when I was walking out to bat,” Azam said on Tuesday . “When the crowd cheers for you, you want to give it your everything.”

The year 2019 turned out to be a remarkable period for Azam.

Like his run in international white ball cricket, his Test batting form surged. Three of his four Test centuries came last year and overall he had the fifth best average (68.44) among the batsmen to have scored more than 500 runs in the longest format of the game.

Azam struggled to get his rhythm going early on. But, the presence of Abid Ali, a veteran of first-class cricket who was playing his maiden Test innings and scored a century, helped.

“It took me [a few] overs to settle at the crease after which I planned my innings. I usually go and play my strokes freely, but that was not happening since the ball was coming slow. I had a chat with Abid Ali, who was batting before me, and he told me to take my time.”

Once settled, runs started to flow off Azam’s bat. It was when he neared the 50-run mark, he realised that he could have a go at the century. But a brief chat with the umpire after the tea break fazed the right-hander.

“I was playing on 48 when I realised that I can get it [his first century on home soil]. But, when I went in after the tea break, the umpire told me that the sun sets early so we might have to call off the day an hour earlier,” he said.

“From that instance, I had my eyes on the sun as I went about my innings. As it started to go down, I told Abid that the umpires will call stumps any time now and I panicked a little at that stage. You tend to make mistakes when you panic, but I give full credit to Abid who kept assuring me that I will achieve my goal and that kept me from making any mistakes.”

Once in his 90s, Azam pierced the off-side field twice with scintillating strokes, the last one granting him the century.

After punching Dilruwan Perera through covers, he had his eyes fixated at the ball as it traveled to the rope.

The crowd erupted in joy and Azam roared and punched the air.

“I tried to stay calm and build my innings. I watched the ball go to the fence and celebrated once it hit the rope. You can only relax once you have achieved your goal. So, after the ball hit the boundary, I unwound myself and celebrated my century.

“That moment was an outstanding one for me as Test cricket was played [in the country] after such a long time and I scored a century in the first match,” he said.

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