Hussey: Pakistan star who’s joined Smith, Kohli level
PAKISTAN maestro Babar Azam has risen to cricket's truly elite stratosphere alongside Steve Smith and Virat Kohli, making a seemingly harmless Test summer a major banana skin for Australia.
Australian fans have had a taste of what Babar can do, with the star batsman stroking a sparkling century against a powerful Australia A bowling attack in Perth on Monday - a week after notching back-to-back T20I half-centuries.
Babar has already proven himself to be an elite white-ball player, having plundered 3359 runs at 54.18 in his five seasons to date while also owning the fifth-best record of all time of converting half-centuries into tons.
Live stream the Australia v Pakistan Test Series with KAYO SPORTS on your TV or favourite device. Get your 14-day free trial >
And in addition to being the world's No.1 T20I batsman, and on the podium for ODIs, Babar is coming off his best calendar year in the red-ball format - prompting Australian Test legend Michael Hussey to declare he's joined the conversation as one of the best on the planet.
"They've got a class player in Babar Azam as well that holds their batting order together," Hussey said prior to Babar's domination in Perth.
"They've got some other class players as well, but he, in my view, he's in the same conversation as the likes of Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson and Joe Root.
"He's in that echelon of player, he should be in that conversation."
He endured a less-than-stellar start to his Test career, however. His average hovers in the mid-30s, and he's remembered on these shores for a miserable debut tour which returned a top score of 23 and an average of 11.33.
Through his first 11 Tests, he averaged a mere 23.75 - but from the start of 2018, we've witnessed a different Babar.
After notching half-centuries against Ireland and England, Babar hit a career-best 99 against Australia in the UAE - which flowed into a maiden Test century in the following series against New Zealand.
As illustrated by his majestic century on Monday - an innings dotted with his trademark straight drive against an attack boasting Test hopefuls Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser - the 25-year-old ready to take the next leap as a red-ball batsman.
"Babar Azam can go big and wear (Australia) down, which is what (India's Cheteshwar) Pujara did last year," Fox Cricket's Kerry O'Keeffe declared.
Pujara faced an incredible 1258 balls, scored a series-high 521 runs and hit two matchwinning centuries as India won their first ever series in Australia - a feat Pakistan are hoping to emulate in the next two months.
It's why Hussey and O'Keeffe issued a gentle warning to Australian crowds who are expecting a walkover of a summer which gets underway at the Gabba on November 21.
"Everyone is suggesting that Australia will dominate the Test summer and I don't know if they will," said O'Keeffe.
"Pakistan and New Zealand are two of the world's great underdogs - they actually poorly when they're favourites.
"They know what works now to beat Australia at home and you can bet that New Zealand in particular are well researched. They'll come here with definite gameplans.
"I think they're big banana skins for Australia, these series. That's why they represent real danger."
Ranked seventh in the world Pakistan have won just one of their past 23 Test matches on Australian soil - with that sole victory coming on the back of a Mushtaq Ahmed spinning masterclass in 1995.
But with Babar leading the way they present as dangerous an outfit as any of the past 25 years.
"With Pakistan you've got these mercurial cricketers with so much talent and so much ability - but can they put it together over a five-day period?" Hussey said.
"You're going to see probably the best and the worst maybe in the one day from Pakistan.
"Consistency's always been the issue. But if they're on song, they honestly can beat any team in the world."