RAWALPINDI: Babar Azam attributed Pakistan’s series-clinching victory in the second Test against South Africa at the Pindi Cricket Stadium on Monday to the excellent camaraderie within the squad.
Speaking to reporters during the virtual media conference moments after Pakistan sealed a 95-run win to seal the two-match series 2-0, Babar said the self-belief was the key to his side bouncing back after South Africa had inched closer to the target of 370.
“The Test was on a knife’s edge at lunch and could have gone either way. Both [Aiden] Markram and [Temba] Bavuma had foiled us by batting very well and were taking South Africa as close as possible [to victory],” Babar said.
“Obviously we were a bit worried when those two were batting but all of us understood that we just needed to break that partnership and the rest will be easy. All credit to Hasan [Ali] and Shaheen [Shah Afridi] for being simply brilliant with the new ball. They never gave them [South Africa] any room to settle by bowling in the corridor of uncertainties. The way Hasan performed here is phenomenal because he had been out for a while but still showed tremendous character. Shaheen too hit his strides when wickets were required from him.
“With these two bowling the way they did, at no time we felt like getting into a state of anxiety. During lunch the discussion around the squad was not to relax, keep plugging away and let the batsmen make mistakes. The best part of this meeting was that nobody outside the playing XI had lost hope. The [team] management and non-playing members were all geeing up that we won’t lose this Test.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the camaraderie within the squad is perhaps the biggest plus point for Pakistan. The boys not only are supportive but are also thoroughly enjoying each other’s success,” the 26-year-old skipper went on.
Babar also thanked South Africa for touring Pakistan for the first time after more than 13 years.
“We owe them a big thank you for coming to our country. It was tough for them to lose the series but overall, South Africa played competitive cricket throughout the series.”
NEVER LOST HEART: HASAN
Man-of-the-match Hasan during his presser emphasised it was imperative for him to prove himself after injuries put him out of the Pakistan squad for more than 17 months.
“I never lost heart when I wasn’t playing for Pakistan as well as top-level domestic competitions. But this season has been a wonderful journey for me,” said Hasan, who skippered Central Punjab with inspiration and helped them share the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy title after the final against Khyber Pakhtunkhwa finished in a dramatic tie in Karachi in early January.
“The road of comeback was tough but I kept my focus and worked extremely hard to improve my fitness. I knew that only consistent performances would help me knock the door of playing international cricket [again].
“I’m very, very happy and my joy is also double because my wife is expecting our first child. It’s a blessing from Allah that Pakistan won the series and I played some part in the [series] victory. And now I’m looking forward to the [three-match] T20 series [starting in Lahore from Thursday],” the right-armer added.
Meanwhile, Markram despite scoring his first century in the sub-continent expressed huge disappointment, saying the Rawalpindi Test loss was like a bitter pill to swallow.
“It is because we felt gutted by this [series] loss. To my mind team performance means more than individual glory. Today the opportunity of drawing [the series] was definitely there,” a dejected Markram, who scored 108 — the only three-figure knock for South Africa on this tour — told reporters.
“Scoring a century in the subcontinent is fine because it taught you how to play in the conditions here. But it hurts when the team loses and that’s what happened on this tour. There were lessons we learnt on the way and that is not to repeat the same mistakes again. But deep down everyone is hurt.
“But having said that I still believe there were opportunities that came our way but we didn’t take it as such. There were times where we could have pushed on in terms of making progress in the right direction,” he added.
Markram — the only batsman on either side to cross the 200-run-mark with 227 at 56.75 during the series — maintained South Africa had crumbled under pressure when he and Temba Bavuma were stitching together a century partnership as well as during the third evening of the match.
“As a unit we played well only in patches throughout the series, but somehow we lost the grip in all departments. This isn’t the first time South Africna batting has collapsed in a heap. To be honest I don’t know how to find the solution to this.”
With Quinton de Kock likely to give up the Test captaincy after accepting the job for this season, Markram played down speculations of him given the reins whenever the next Test series is held.
“I haven’t given too much thought about being asked to lead the Test side. At the moment I have been focussing on playing because my goal is to [help the team] win matches by scoring runs,” Markram concluded.