'The more time you give to the ground, the more it will give back to you'

Old hat: Babar Azam after his seventh ODI hundred in 13 months Getty Images

How different did you feel when you reached you first ODI hundred compared to the seventh?
I didn't feel anything too different. Early on in my career, I used to get out in the 30s, 40s, fifties and 60s. So I really appreciated reaching my first hundred. But I was as focused when making my seventh hundred as I was during my first ton. I give my 100% in every game.

What was it like batting in the 90s ahead of your maiden hundred?
I was quite nervous. I was in some pressure leading up to that game. My focus became double, and thanks to Allah, I reached the three-figure mark. I got a lot of confidence from that game.

In the last two years you have become a more responsible player in the Pakistan team.
There's a lot of expectations on me. I am trying to take my ODI confidence to Test cricket. Early on, I hadn't done well in Tests. But I am far more focused in the longer format.

You did decently well in Australia, but do you still think there's a gap for you between the two formats?
There is certainly a gap. But to be honest, I like playing in Australia. I have played the Under-19 World Cup there. The ball comes on to the bat better there.

Tell us about those three consecutive hundreds against West Indies.
I was quite excited about the first hundred. The confidence got higher after the second. Ahead of the third hundred, I knew that I was looking at a world record. But I felt similar to how it was before the first two hundreds.

I knew about the world record because it was all over social media. I stayed focused before the third hundred, never thinking that I have to score a hundred. I remembered my processes of the first two hundreds and applied it in that game. Allah gave me the third one as well.

Is there a routine for a hundred?
I train really hard. I do a lot of extra batting drills, apart from the usual nets. My mindset is always focused, which goes up on match days. I think that I want to bat throughout the innings, for the team. You can call this my routine.

Tell us your first memory of cricket.
I loved playing cricket from my childhood. My dad made me play in the streets, and my interest grew. He put me in a club, seeing this. My habit grew from that point. I went to practise in the morning, returned home in the evening. I had the craze for cricket from an early age.

"Early on in my career, I used to get out in the 30s, 40s, fifties and 60s. So I really appreciated reaching my first hundred"

The Akmal brothers are your cousins. Did you play with them?
I played in their club and also with them. I changed my club later on. They always tell me when they see me making a mistake. Kami bhai supports me a lot.

Who was your batting hero?
I loved watching AB de Villiers in the early days. I used to follow him closely. I copied him a lot too. In the nets, I used to at least try some of the shots he played in the matches.

Even those extravagant shots?
Laughs Those hadn't been played back then. I still don't try those shots. I play normally. Nowadays I follow Virat Kohli, Hashim Amla, and of course, de Villiers.

Mickey Arthur compared you to a young Virat Kohli.
He compared me with a very big player. I think it shouldn't be done. But that is the coach's thinking. Maybe the stats at the start of our careers are similar, but he is the No. 1 batsman in the world. I want to perform at a high level for Pakistan too.

You were a top scorer in the U-19s. Do you use any lessons from those days in your game now?
I certainly do. I played two World Cups in New Zealand and Australia. I learned a lot from those two tournaments. I still love playing in those countries, enjoy my batting there. You learn about wickets there, so it gives you confidence when you go there to play international cricket.

Ijaz bhai used to tell me: you stay at the wicket, everything else will happen. I rose to the international level keeping these words in mind; I retained that mindset.

What would you tell a youngster who wants to become the next Babar Azam?
I would say, never compromise on your cricket. The more time you give to the ground, the more it will give back to you. Keep an eye on your fitness and give your 100% in matches. Stay focused.