Having Pakistani players in the Indian T20 League is almost unfathomable within the next decade at least. But hypothetically, if they were in the auction pool, which team wouldn’t love to snap up the delicate, delicious Babar Azam?
Pakistan's answer to Virat Kohli, the dynamic middle-order batsman thrives as an opener in the shortest format of the game and has had success in T20Is and franchise league cricket. In the last three years, Azam is one of the most successful T20 openers in the world.
He has 2557 runs across all T20s as an opener in 64 games since 2017 at an average of 46.49 and a strike rate in the mid-130s. While the striking prowess is not ideal for a T20 opener, complemented with someone who can take the attack to the opposition, Azam is deadly because he consistently makes the 30-plus average score in T20s. 35 of these 64 innings at the top saw him make 30 or more.
Among openers with at least 1500 runs in this period, only KL Rahul and David Warner have better averages. This gives us a fair idea about the value Babar brings to the table. He can't fit into a Gayle, Rahul, or Warner role but as a top-order anchor alongside a beastly opener, Babar Azam can be an unstoppable force.
This brings us to the ultimate question: Which Indian T20 League team would love to have Babar Azam in their ranks? Not Punjab who have Gayle and Rahul at the top. Not Bangalore, who now have too many overseas options that are too good. Not Hyderabad, who have the incredible duo of Warner and Jonny Bairstow at the top. That's three out of eight franchises crossed off.
Of the rest, Chennai are likely to make a bid for Azam given that he could perfectly complement Shane Watson at the top, particularly on the slower decks in Chepauk, where brisk scoring isn't always feasible. Rajasthan might love to have him alongside Jos Buttler at the top but they already have a one-dimensional T20 batsman who can anchor in Steven Smith, and that rules them out. Kolkata could use him in an effective role at the top alongside Sunil Narine.
It is highly likely that Kolkata would go the length to buy Babar Azam. Alongside a dynamic force like Sunil Narine, Babar can be an icy presence at the top of the order, adding valuable top-order runs and setting the stage for players like Andre Russell and Eoin Morgan to take over.
Delhi and Mumbai are unlikely to be too interested in Babar given their team dynamics. Kolkata will likely be challenged by Chennai in their bid to bring Babar to the setup and an imaginary auction bid would possibly range between Rs 4-6 crore. It is unlikely that any team would go beyond this to secure Babar, given that he still remains valuable only in the initial half of a T20 innings.
Comparisons with Virat Kohli are high, yet Babar remains a one-dimensional T20 opener unlike Kohli who can set the pace and also accelerate at the death.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Aamir Qureshi