Ed Hawkins reveals the most reliable top-bat wager in T20 as Pakistan and Sri Lanka meet in Lahore on Saturday...
"Fakhar Zaman, blessed with a name which only sweary, liquor-soaked conjuror might utter, is a threat. But he’s not in the same league as Babar"
The first Twenty20 international between Pakistan and Sri Lanka in Lahore will struggle to make itself heard above a busy cricketing week. India versus South Africa, the denouement of the Caribbean Premier League and even the hollow echo of the hammer in The Hundred draft will make more noise. But bettors will dismiss it at their peril.
It is true that in terms of match odds, it's tepid stuff. Pakistan, hoping to get back on track after a crash against South Africa called into question their world number one status, are no better than 1.331/3. That is a crazy price in this format, even if a chaotic Sri Lanka team are unrecognisable. They've treated this series like an international cricket version of Guess Who? 'Er, does he wear a cap...a moustache?...Is it Kusal Mendis?' No, he's not there. And before you ask, neither is Kusal Perera, Lasith Malinga nor Thisara Perera.
No matter, we're not here to watch the Lankans anyway. We here to watch - and bet - Babar Azam. The man who could have been named after a conjuror's magic word: Babar Azam! The Pakistan opener is a charm with an extraordinary, unprecedented hit rate in the top-bat market.
Babar is, as you would expect, favourite to top score at the Gaddafi Stadium. Sportsbook go 12/5. Pretty short, eh, for this market isn't it? Well, not short enough. And in that regard it's a little hard not to feel sorry for the lads and lasses doing the pricing up. Still, in a summer where we saw Steve Smith (erroneously, as you asked) go off no better than even money for honours in the Ashes, there is at least form for shortening players in what many would consider prohibitive fashion.
On two-year data Babar has...wait for it...a 57.8% hit rate. That's 11 wins in 19 matches. And in one of those 19 he managed a tie. So 63% of the time you're getting money in your sky rocket. It is an extraordinary record. A 12/5 chance has an implied probability of 29.4%. Talk about an edge. If Babar was priced up on his win rate - not that we would expect him to be - he would be 8/11.
It won't surprise anyone who followed the Vitality Blast. Babar top scored 46% of the time for Somerset. That's the same win rate in his entire T20 international career. Had Tom Banton not matched him stroke for stroke, top-bat for top-bat, Babar would have been busting even money again.
Fakhar Zaman, blessed with a name which only sweary, liquor-soaked conjuror might utter, is a threat. But he's not on a par with Banton. Fakhar has five wins in the last 24 but three of those came when our man was not playing. We respect his strokeplay and shot selection but he's not in the same league as Babar.
In the one-day series that has preceded the thrash and bash, Babar has shown reassuring form. His iron wrists and fast hands flicked and cut their way to a brilliant 115 in the second game (match one was washed out) and he hit a 26-ball 33 in the second. He's seeing it well. Even if Babar does not cop in the first match, we'd advise doubling stakes until he does. Two matches follow, both in Lahore.
Top Pakistan bat wins/matches last two years
Babar 11 1t/19
Fakhar 5 1 t/24
Umar Amin 0/4
Ed Hawkins P-L
Based only on available prices. Does not include back-to-lay in-running match advice or commission rate. Figures 2013-2016 on 1pt level stakes. New points system (0.5pt-5) introduced for 2017. Includes Hawk-Eye stats column p-l