Babar Azam's incredible rise: From tape-ball cricket to the top of the world

News Network
April 16, 2021

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From playing on the streets of Lahore to the top of the world – batting sensation Babar Azam has officially climbed a summit unreached by any Pakistani since Mohammad Yousuf.

Babar’s spot at the top of the ICC men’s ODI batting rankings was confirmed on Wednesday, to the delight of Pakistani supporters who last saw a batsman from their country occupy the top spot in 2003.

We look back on the 26-year-old sensation’s rise to the top.

THE FORMATIVE YEARS

For Babar, the journey started in the same way it has for so many cricket lovers around the world. Playing on the streets around his family home in Lahore.

By 12 he was playing serious tape-ball cricket and at age 14 he had his first meaningful taste of failure in the sport as he was rejected from the national academy.

It was only a setback. A year later he would gain entry and be declared the country’s best Under-15 batsman. Not that it was easy. He had spent the past year leaving home at 10am in the company of two of his cousins and a friend, walking an hour to Model Town Park where they would set up the nets. They would not come home until 8pm. It was that kind of diligence and hard work that would carry him to the top.

DOMINATING UNDER-19s

In 2009, still only 15 years old, the first signs of a generational talent emerged.

Opening the batting in his first-ever match at the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup, taking on a West Indies line-up filled with future internationals, he scored a brilliant 129 off 132 deliveries.

Pakistan would go on to finish second at that tournament, with Babar third on the run-scoring charts. He finished with 298 runs at 59.60, ahead of the likes of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and KL Rahul. Competing against players up to three years older than him in New Zealand, he had dominated.

Two years later he found himself leading Pakistan at the U19 Cricket World Cup 2012 in Australia. Once again he finished among the top three run-scorers, making 287 at 57.40 with one century and two fifties.

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR IN DOMESTIC CRICKET

He was still only 17 years old during his second U19 World Cup but by then he had already become a regular in Pakistan’s domestic tournaments.

By age 15 he had made his List A debut and by 16 he was a first-class cricketer for ZTBL.

He would spend five years knocking on the door in domestic cricket before achieving the lifelong dream of representing his nation at the senior level.

In just his second season of List A cricket he averaged 80.25, and he went on to average more than 55 in each of his next two domestic campaigns.

His star waned in his fifth season but in the summer of 2014/15 he returned to his best, smashing 571 runs at 63.44 across 11 List A matches with three centuries to his name.

By the time he received his first ODI cap he already had six centuries and more than 2000 List A runs at an average of 47.88 to his name.

A HOMETOWN DEBUT

Fittingly when he received his first ODI cap, on 31 May 2015, it was in his hometown of Lahore at Gaddafi Stadium. It was just five kilometres away from Model Town Park where he and his friends had once trained.

It had been a landmark month for cricket in Lahore, with the city hosting international fixtures for the first time in six years.

Still only 20 years old, Babar took the occasion in his stride, stroking a 60-ball 54. As would become synonymous with an Babar innings, it was played with a minimum of risks but at an impressive clip.

With wickets falling around him, he dealt his damage mostly in ones and twos, but still raced to his half-century in just 54 balls, with his four boundaries coming off deliveries that asked to be hit.
He had arrived.

A STAR EMERGES

Nowadays, Babar’s place among ODI cricket’s finest players is unquestionable. An average of 56.83 and 13 centuries across just 80 matches will do that sort of thing.

However, across his first year and a half on the international stage there were only signs of promise rather than concrete evidence of a world-class player. Across his first 15 ODIs, he had averaged 37.57, with his five half-centuries as much cause for hope as frustration.

It all changed on the final day of September in 2016 as he punched a delivery from West Indies spinner Sunil Narine through the covers to raise his first ODI century at Sharjah in the UAE.

With that first international century scored, the floodgates were opened.

He notched two more hundreds in his next two innings against the West Indies, becoming the first player to ever score their first three ODI centuries in consecutive innings.

Since that first ton against the West Indies, he has scored 13 hundreds in 65 matches with an average of 61.92.

CHAMPIONS TROPHY WINNER

In 2017, Pakistan won their first global 50-over trophy in 25 years, beating rivals India in the final of the ICC Champions Trophy after going into the tournament as firm underdogs.

Babar, not yet born when Imran Khan’s famous outfit won the World Cup in ’92, scored an important 46 in the final and averaged a healthy 44.33 for the tournament.

The men in green received a hero’s welcome on their return to Pakistan, with Babar coming home to see his car sprinkled in petals by his neighbours.

"I always try to give my 100% and want to improve with every passing game," he told reporters at the time. "I am happy that I have contributed in the victories and excited to be a part of this historic moment."

KICKING ON

That desire to continue improving was on show as he notched back-to-back centuries in his first two matches after the Champions Trophy.

Both came against Sri Lanka and both were in the UAE, where he had now scored hundreds in five consecutive ODI innings. No one has ever scored more consecutive ODI tons in a country.

By September 2018 he passed 2000 runs in ODI cricket, reaching the milestone in just 45 innings. Only one player has ever gotten there quicker and that is South African great Hashim Amla. Amla took just 40 innings.

THE WORLD CUP

By the time the ICC Cricket World Cup rolled around in 2019, Pakistan knew they had a star in Babar. It was at the showpiece tournament that the rest of the world really caught on too.

A 66-ball 63 in a surprise win for Pakistan against hosts England in his second match of the tournament had caught the eye. So too had his 48 against India and 69 against South Africa.

However, they had all left fans wanting more. More of those gorgeous cover drives. More of that serenity at the crease. But most importantly, more runs. For the Babar who had so regularly turned starts into so much more to come out on the world stage.

Against New Zealand, he did just that, scoring his first-ever Cricket World Cup century as Pakistan got home with five balls to spare on a pitch that offered plenty to the bowlers.

“This is my best innings,” Babar told reporters after the match. “The wicket was very difficult and turned a lot in the second half. The plan was to go through to the end and give my 100 per cent."

He went on to make history in that tournament, scoring 474 runs at 67.61 to break Javed Miandad’s 1992 record for the most runs by a Pakistan batsman in a Cricket World Cup campaign.

A CAPTAIN’S RUN TO NO.1

Shortly after the World Cup, Babar was named Pakistan’s ODI captain. So far the added responsibility has only further fuelled his success.

In his six ODIs since being named captain, Babar has averaged 89.80 with a strike rate of 102.98, passing 50 four times.

In his third match as captain, he scored a run-a-ball 125 against Zimbabwe. He followed it up with a century against South Africa at Centurion, powering his team to a series-opening victory. He went on to score 94 in the decider last week, securing Pakistan’s second-ever ODI series win in South Africa.

That 94 was also enough to secure Babar top spot on the ICC ODI batting rankings, ending Pakistan’s nearly 18-year long wait for somebody to follow in the footsteps of Yousuf.

Still only 26 years old, Babar's best years are still ahead of him.

Given he boasts the third greatest ODI average (56.83) in history right now, that is a scary thought for opposition teams all around the world.

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News Network
April 23,2021

Mumbai, Apr 23: Maharashtra's worries compounded further on Friday after at least 13 patients died in a fire at a Covid-19 Center in Vasai Virar, Palghar district, Maharashtra.

The fire broke out at 03:13 am at the Vijay Vallabh Hospital at Tirupati Nagar off the Banjara Hotel. The fire was extinguished around 5.50 am. Short-circuit is suspected to have caused the fire. The fire broke out at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital.

Teams of Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVCMC) were involved in the fire-fighting operations. Maharashtra government has ordered a probe into the incident.

“I am reaching the spot,” said Agriculture Minister Dada Bhuse, who is Palghar's guardian Minister. Bhuse confirmed 13 deaths.

Local MLAs – Hitendra Thakur (Vasai) and his son Kshitij Thakur (Nalasopara) are reviewing the relief operations.

The Prime Minister's Office tweeted about the "tragic" incident, offering condolences to those who lost their loved ones in the accident. "May the injured recover soon," the post read.

Similar incidents this year

On April 21, there was a massive leak of oxygen at the Dr Zakir Husian Hospital in Nashik, leading to a pressure drop, claiming the lives of 24 Covid-19 patients on ventilators and oxygen beds.

On March 25-26, a fire broke out at the Sunrise Hospital in Dreams Mall in Bhandup in which 11 persons died. On January 9, a fire broke out at Bhandara District Hospital in Bhandup, in which 10 new-born babies died. 

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News Network
May 4,2021

Twitter has permanently suspended actor Kangana Ranaut's account for repeated violations of rules, specifically its "Hateful Conduct and Abusive Behaviour policy”, the microblogging site said in a statement on Tuesday.

The 34-year-old actor’s handle @KanganaTeam now displays the message: account suspended.

Ranaut, known for her often inflammatory tweets, posted several messages following the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress’ win over the BJP in West Bengal and incidents of post-poll violence. Calling for President’s Rule in the state, she also blamed Banerjee for the violence and called her unpublishable names.

"We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behaviour that has the potential to lead to offline harm,” a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.

"The referenced account has been permanently suspended for repeated violations of Twitter Rules specifically our Hateful Conduct policy and Abusive Behaviour policy. We enforce the Twitter Rules judiciously and impartially for everyone on our service," the spokesperson added.

According to Twitter's Abusive Behaviour policy, "one may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so or attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice".

When an account is suspended permanently, the account holder is notified about the rules they have violated, the social media platform said citing the policy.

On Monday, writer-lyricist Hussain Haidry had shared two tweets of the actor and urged people to report the account.

“If you are a blue tick account or with a large following, I am not asking you to speak up against this. But please just quietly REPORT these two tweets. This is calling for mass violence. And directing it at Muslims,” he wrote.

Many social media users have called Ranaut out for spreading hatred.

The actor also posted a video on Instagram where she termed the silence of the liberal international media on Bengal violence their "conspiracy against India". Ranaut is also active on Facebook.

Last year, Ranaut's sister Rangoli's account was suspended on the microblogging website. The actor became active on Twitter after that. 

In a statement, Ranaut said that Twitter has only proved her point that "they are Americans and by birth, a white person feels entitled to enslave a brown person, they want to tell you what to think, speak or do, fortunately, I have many platforms, I can use to raise my voice including my own art in the form of cinema but my heart goes out to the people of this nation who have been tortured, enslaved and censored for thousands of years and still there is no end to the suffering...”

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Agencies
April 25,2021

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India’s coronavirus second wave is rapidly sliding into a devastating crisis, with hospitals unbearably full, oxygen supplies running low, desperate people dying in line waiting to see doctors — and mounting evidence that the actual death toll is far higher than officially reported.

Each day, the government reports more than 300,000 new infections, a world record, and India is now seeing more new infections than any other country by far, almost half of all new cases in a global surge.

But experts say those numbers, however staggering, represent just a fraction of the real reach of the virus’ spread, which has thrown this country into emergency mode. Millions of people refuse to even step outside — their fear of catching the virus is that extreme. Accounts from around the country tell of the sick being left to gasp for air as they wait at chaotic hospitals that are running out of life-saving oxygen.

The sudden surge in recent weeks, with an insidious newer variant possibly playing a role, is casting increasing doubt on India’s official Covid-19 death toll of nearly 200,000, with more than 2,000 people dying every day.

Interviews from cremation grounds across the country, where the fires never stop, portray an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures. Nervous politicians and hospital administrators may be undercounting or overlooking large numbers of dead, analysts say. And grieving families may be hiding Covid connections as well, adding to the confusion in this enormous nation of 1.4 billion.

“It’s a complete massacre of data,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan who has been following India closely. “From all the modelling we’ve done, we believe the true number of deaths is two to five times what is being reported.”

At one of the large cremation grounds in Ahmedabad, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, bright orange fires light up the night sky, burning 24 hours a day, like an industrial plant that never shuts down. Suresh Bhai, a worker there, said he had never seen such a never-ending assembly line of death.

But he has not been writing down the cause of death as Covid-19 on the thin paper slips that he hands over to the mournful families, even though the number of dead is surging along with the virus.

“Sickness, sickness, sickness,” Suresh said. “That’s what we write.”

When asked why, he said it was what he had been instructed to do by his bosses, who did not respond to requests for comment.

On Saturday, officials reported nearly 350,000 new infections, and the deaths continued to rise. At one hospital in New Delhi, the capital, doctors said 20 patients in a critical care unit had died after oxygen pressure dropped. The doctors blamed the deaths on the city’s acute oxygen shortage.

Months ago, India seemed to be doing remarkably well with the pandemic. After a harsh initial lockdown early last year was eased, the country did not register the frightening case-count and death numbers that sent other big countries into crisis mode. Many officials and ordinary citizens stopped taking precautions, acting as if the worst days were over.

Now, countless Indians are turning to social media to send out heartbreaking SOS messages for a hospital bed, medicine, some oxygen to breathe. “‘National Emergency,’” blared a banner headline in one of India’s leading papers, The Hindustan Times. Across India, mass cremations are now taking place. Sometimes dozens of fires go up at once.

At the same time, India’s Covid vaccine campaign is struggling: Less than 10 per cent of Indians have gotten even one dose, despite India being the world’s leading vaccine manufacturer. India’s dire needs are already having ripple effects across the world, especially for poorer countries. It had planned to ship out millions of doses; now, given the country’s stark vaccination shortfall, exports have essentially been shut down, leaving other nations with far fewer doses than they had expected.

Doctors worry that the runaway surge is being at least partly driven by the emergence of a virus variant known as the “double mutant,” B.1.617, because it contains genetic mutations found in two other difficult-to-control versions of the coronavirus. One of the mutations is present in the highly contagious variant that ripped through California earlier this year. The other mutation is similar to one found in the South African variant and believed to make the virus more resistant to vaccines.

Still, scientists caution it is too early to know for sure how pernicious the new variant emerging in India really is.

The result could be the worst of both worlds, faster-spreading and less controllable. This is worrying scientists around the globe, who see people starting to relax their guard in well-inoculated countries even as huge setbacks in India, Brazil and other places raise the likelihood that the coronavirus will mutate in ways that could outflank the current vaccines.

In Bhopal, a large city in central India that was the site of a catastrophic gas leak in the 1980s that killed thousands, residents say the cremation grounds haven’t been as busy since that disaster.

Over 13 days in mid-April, Bhopal officials reported 41 deaths related to Covid-19. But a survey by The New York Times of the city’s main Covid-19 cremation and burial grounds, where bodies were being handled under strict protocols, revealed a total of more than 1,000 deaths during the same period.

“Many deaths are not getting recorded and they are increasing every day,” said Dr. G.C. Gautam, a cardiologist based in Bhopal. He said that officials were doing this because “they don’t want to create panic.”

The same phenomenon appeared to be happening in Lucknow and Mirzapur — major cities in Uttar Pradesh state — and across Gujarat, where, during a similar period in mid-April, the authorities reported between 73 and 121 Covid-related deaths each day.

But a detailed count compiled by one of Gujarat’s leading newspapers, Sandesh, which sent reporters to cremation and burial grounds across the state, indicated that the number was several times higher, around 610 each day.

The biggest newspapers in India have seized on the discrepancies. “Covid-19 deaths in Gujarat far exceed government figures,” read a recent front-page headline in The Hindu.

India’s population is, on average, much younger than in most Western nations. Experts say that is the most likely reason that deaths per million in India had seemed relatively low. But the number is quickly climbing.

According to excess mortality studies, Covid-19 deaths have been underestimated in many countries, including in the United States and Britain.

But India is a much bigger and poorer country. And its people are spread across 28 states and several federal territories in a highly decentralized system of governance, with different states counting deaths in different ways.

Even in a good year, experts say, only about one-fifth of deaths are medically investigated, meaning that the vast number of Indians die without a cause of death being certified.

According to the World Health Organisation, a death should be recorded as Covid-19-related if the disease is assumed to have caused or contributed to it, even if the person had a pre-existing medical condition, such as cancer.

In many places in India, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Rupal Thakkar tested positive for Covid-19 in mid-April. On April 16, she was admitted to Shalby Limited, a private hospital in her home city of Ahmedabad, but her oxygen levels suddenly dropped. The next day Thakkar, 48, died.

The hospital listed her cause of death as “sudden cardiac death,” which left the Thakkar family outraged.

“It was a lifetime shock,” said her younger brother, Dipan Thakkar. “Why would a private hospital connive with the government in hiding the real death numbers? It was an organised crime. It was an illegal act.”

Officials at Shalby didn’t respond to requests for comment.

After her situation was widely publicized in Indian newspapers, the hospital issued a second death certificate, this time including Covid-19 as a contributing cause.

Some families don’t want the truth to come out, said Mukherjee of the University of Michigan. Some want to cremate loved ones outside strict Covid-19 government protocols, and so they hide the fact that their family member died from the coronavirus. Others may feel ashamed about losing a loved one, as if it were their fault.

A political agenda may also be at play, experts said. States controlled by India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may face pressure to underreport, according to some analysts. Mukherjee cited the very public scandal in 2019 when Modi’s government tried to suppress data showing a rise in the unemployment rate.

When it comes to Covid data, she said, “there is tremendous pressure from the central government on the state governments for projecting progress.”

Several officials from the governing party did not respond to messages seeking comment.

But manipulating death numbers seems to be happening in other places, too. One example is the state of Chhattisgarh, in central India, which is run by the leading opposition party, Congress.

Officials in Chhattisgarh’s Durg district, home to a large steel plant, reported more than 150 Covid-19 deaths from April 15 to April 21, according to messages sent to local media that were seen by The Times. The state reported less than half that number for Durg.

Chhattisgarh’s health minister, T.S. Singh Deo, denied any intentional underreporting.

 “We have tried to be as transparent as humanly possible,” he said. “We stand to be corrected at any point in time.”

Cremations are an important part of Hindu burial rituals, seen as a way to free the soul from the body. Those working at the burning grounds said they were utterly exhausted and could never remember so many people dying in such a short span of time.

In Surat, an industrial city in Gujarat, the grills used to burn bodies have been operating so relentlessly that the iron on some has actually melted. On April 14, Covid-19 crematories in Surat and another district, Gandhinagar, told The Times that they cremated 124 people, on a day when the authorities said 73 had died of Covid-19 in the entire state.

In Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh state, bodies are now being burned in some of the city’s parks; the crematories are that backed up.

In Ahmedabad, at the Vadaj crematory, huge smokestacks pump out black smoke. Suresh, a clerk, sits in a tiny office, the door closed firmly shut.

When reached by telephone, he said he put “beemari,” or sickness in Hindi, on all the death certificates, and he referred questions to a sanitation official who then referred questions to another official who declined to answer calls.

Suresh said that his crematory handled 15 to 20 bodies of Covid-19 patients every day. As he spoke Friday, three bodies burned on separate pyres, next to a large and growing stack of freshly chopped wood.

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