Legendary Sri Lankan batter Mahela Jayawardene feels Babar Azam's form is a cause for concern as Pakistan prepare for the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia next month, with the former player attributing his below-par scores in the Asia Cup to "pressure".
Babar managed just 68 runs in six outings in the recently-concluded Asia Cup in the UAE as Pakistan lost in the final to Sri Lanka. It was a rare struggle for one of the most versatile T20I batters in the world today, and the lean patch cost him the No.1 spot in the ICC T20I batters' rankings.
Babar's team-mate and opening partner Mohammad Rizwan now holds that top spot with Babar at No.3 behind South Africa's Aiden Markram.
"The way Babar has been batting the last two years, for him to have a tournament like that is a concern," Jayawardena told the The ICC Review. "But I think he is still a quality player. Probably the occasion being, you know, part of an Asia Cup, and not that often that India-Pakistan play each other as well. So maybe the whole pressure got to him a little bit, I would say. But he is still a quality player.
"Pakistan did miss him with the bat because Rizwan and him at the top are a very, very consistent opening pair. The success of Pakistan over the last two years has been on that foundation, where all the big-hitters come in the middle and they (Babar and Rizwan) give that platform and they take it on.
"That's something that they missed (in the Asia Cup), but all good players go through some lean patch. I'm sure he will go back and go through his processes and come back stronger," opined Jayawardene.
On Tuesday, Azam scored a quick 31 against England in the opening T20I at the National Stadium in Karachi, but just when the skipper was looking confident, he was dismissed by Adil Rashid. Pakistan ended up with a dismal 158/7 in their 20 overs, which was easily chased down by the visitors, with Alex Hales scoring a half-century.
Jayawardene though dismissed talks that the bowlers had figured him out, pointing out that situations could be a factor in Babar's poor run.
"Not really (bowlers have figured him out) I think, there were a couple of good balls that caught him out in this competition (Asia Cup) and a couple of soft dismissals, which can happen," Jayawardena said.
"It's just the occasion, the conditions and all that. You take him away from this tournament and put him in another tournament, and he will come back strongly -- the quality is always there. Babar is that kind of a batter -- he will go through that process vigorously and make sure that he comes back stronger."
Jayawardena said it was important for Babar to not be put under "undue pressure" heading into the T20 World Cup.
"When you have a quality player like that, try and not put pressure on him," Jayawardena said. "I'm sure there would have been a lot of discussion about his form in the Asia Cup and all that. But leading into the World Cup, you want your best player to be confident and relaxed, going into the World Cup.
"So as long as they are not putting undue pressure on him, that's the important thing. Being the captain and being the best batsman in your team, it is not an easy task. That's something that he has to live up to."
He advised Babar to separate captaincy and batting.
"Going into a World Cup, forget about his captaincy and all that -- be the batsman that he can be, and then be the captain that he needs to be out there on the field," he said.
"These two responsibilities have to be managed separately, and that's key to being a good player and then being a captain of the team."
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