‘Very confident’ Babar Azam finds form to help Pakistan into T20 World Cup final

Pakistan captain Babar Azam feels more assured in his batting and primed for the T20 World Cup final after returning to form in his side’s seven-wicket win over New Zealand.

Babar is widely regarded as one of the best red and white-ball batters in the world but averaged a meagre 7.8 during the Super 12s group stage of the tournament, amassing just 39 runs in 63 balls.

His lean trot might have continued when his outside edge was grazed from the first delivery he faced by New Zealand seamer Trent Boult but a diving Devon Conway grassed the opportunity.

The drop was something of a sliding doors moment for Babar, whose 53 off 42 balls in a 105-run opening stand alongside Mohammad Rizwan was crucial as Pakistan reached a 153 target with five balls to spare.

Babar Azam celebrates reaching his half-century
Babar Azam celebrates reaching his half-century (Rick Rycroft/PA)

Rizwan, who contributed 57 off 43 deliveries, had also largely underwhelmed in Australia and while Babar’s slump was more pronounced, he is convinced he has now turned a corner.

And as his side head to the MCG for Sunday’s showpiece contest against either fierce rivals India or England, who play the second semi-final at Adelaide on Thursday, Babar is in an upbeat mood.

“I’m very confident about my batting,” he said.

“I struggled a little bit in a few matches, but I feel good, so I (want to) continue that momentum in the final.”

Just one win separates Pakistan from the most unlikeliest of tournament triumphs. They lost their first two matches against India and Zimbabwe but rebounded against the Netherlands and South Africa.

Pakistan players wave to their supporters after reaching the final
Pakistan players wave to their supporters after reaching the final (Rick Rycroft/AP)

The Proteas’ shock defeat against the Netherlands then left the door ajar for Pakistan, who guaranteed themselves a top-two finish in their Super 12s group by beating Bangladesh.

They will now be full of confidence heading to Melbourne, where Pakistan have fond memories after famously winning the 50-over World Cup there 30 years ago under the stewardship of Imran Khan.

“(Reaching the final) means a lot,” Babar said. “To be honest, we did not start well but after the South Africa match we had hope and after that we grabbed the opportunity.

“Now we are playing our best cricket, and Alhamdulillah, we will play well in the final.”

While Babar and Rizwan helped Pakistan overhaul New Zealand’s 152 for four, Shaheen Shah Afridi set the tone for the evening by removing Finn Allen with the third ball of the game.

Shaheen Shah Afridi took two wickets
Shaheen Shah Afridi took two wickets (Rick Rycroft/AP)

The left-arm quick finished with two for 24, with the Black Caps grateful for Daryl Mitchell’s 53 not out from 35 balls bumping up their total after they struggled to impose themselves on a tricky pitch.

“Everyone knows he’s the best bowler in Pakistan and in the world,” Babar added of Afridi.

New Zealand, last year’s beaten finalists, followed up a below-par performance with the bat with some uncharacteristic sloppiness in the field, dropping three catches in total as they were well beaten.

Kiwis captain Kane Williamson said: “The frustrating part of this is that we weren’t quite on top of our game.

“We fought hard and we showed some good characteristics that are important for our team and the attitude you want to see but it wasn’t to be. That’s the frustrating part to me.”