Virat Kohli or Babar Azam? The debate continues

Virat Kohli and Babar Azam haven’t played enough cricket against each other but every time there is comparison, the cricketing fraternity seems to be divided.

Babar Azam celebrates his hundred against Australia in Brisbane in 2019.   -  FILE PHOTO/ AP

 

Virat Kohli and Babar Azam haven’t played enough cricket against each other but every time there is comparison, the cricketing fraternity seems to be divided.

While the Indian captain has already emerged as one of the top batsmen in the world, Azam has been steadily rising up the ranks in the last couple of years — proving his mettle in all the three formats of the game.

It hasn’t been an easy ride for the 25-year-old Pakistan batsman.

There have been struggles and Mickey Arthur — who coached Pakistan for three years, from 2016 to 2019 — remembers how he ensured that Azam got enough opportunities to flex his muscles at the world stage.

“I saw Babar Azam grow as a cricketer. That was so important. People had said that Azam cannot play. I ensured that Azam plays every game for Pakistan. He is that good a player,” Arthur told Sportstar.

Babar Azam in Pakistan Test whites.   -  GETTY IMAGES

 

The seasoned coach, who is now the head coach of Sri Lanka, also remembers how it was important to give maximum opportunities to Azam. “We had to give him the roots to grow and wings to fly. We had to give him the time and we are seeing the results now,” Arthur said.

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In his stint as the head coach of Pakistan, Arthur ensured that the youngsters were given a longer rope, even if they struggled initially. “I love developing younger players and giving them opportunity was crucial because over a period of time, that gives you sustainable success. I have always been a coach, who has tried to identify the areas that we needed to improve. I have tried to identify the brand of cricket we play and then structure the team with people who can fit into that brand of cricket. Then, give them an opportunity and allow them to get an extended run,” the 51-year-old Arthur said.

Babar Azam in action in one-day cricket.   -  FILE PHOTO/ AP

 

That, according to Arthur, is important because it gives the players confidence and allows the team culture to grow. “Once you have that, you can win a title like the Champions Trophy. We started the tournament ranked eighth and we ended up winning it. It happened because of the confidence we showed in the young players,” the coach reminisced.

Former Pakistan captain and batting legend, Javed Miandad, doesn’t want to draw a comparison between Kohli and Azam. “They are two different people and they are different from each other. They play the same game and are successful cricketers for their teams, but it is unfair to compare the two,” Miandad told this publication.

Drawing reference to the old times, Miandad added: “In our time, India was all about Sunil Gavaskar and Gundappa Viswanath. Then came Sachin Tendulkar. But it is not right to compare the two cricketers, right? So, here too, Azam and Virat are great ambassadors of the game, but are two entirely differently people.”

Last week, Miandad addressed an online session with the Pakistan cricketers, where he advised Azam to play to his strength. “Babar reminds me of Zaheer Abbas. He plays in his limits and the good thing about him is that he knows his limitations and boundaries, so he executes his plans accordingly,” Miandad said.

Calling him a ‘thinking man’s cricketer’, Miandad also admits that Azam’s presence has bolstered Pakistan batting line up. “A batting line up is dependent on the top-order. So, it is important for the top batsmen to fire, and that’s what he has done. He has worked on his limitations and have tried to be consistent. That’s a major thing,” Miandad, a former national team coach, said.

While Arthur and Miandad aren’t in a mood to compare Azam with Kohli, former Australia cricketer, Tom Moody, has a different opinion. ““He (Azam) has emerged over the last year or so into something that is going to be so special. We talked about how Kohli is so good on the eye as a batsman. If you think Kohli is good to watch, have a look at Azam bat. My gosh, he is something special,” Moody said on The Pitch Side Experts podcast alongside former West Indies cricketer Ian Bishop and cricket analyst Freddie Wilde.

“I think, in the next 5-10 years, he will be on your top five position. Even though he (Azam) has played 26 matches but in half of those matches he was not considered even part of the main batting line-up for Pakistan. He was the after-thought down the order,” he said.

“I think at the moment, it is very hard to justify him at that position given his statistics. Away from home he is only averaging 37 and at home he is averaging 67. But we have to consider that he has hardly played away from home and a lot of those games away were during the early part of his career,” Moody said on the show.

Having played international cricket for around five years, Azam has featured in 26 Tests, 74 ODIs and 38 T20Is, amassing a total of 6,680 runs. He is currently in the fifth position in ICC Test batting rankings, right after Steve Smith, Kohli, Marnus Labuschagne, and Kane Williamson.

These are still early days in his career, but those who have seen him from close quarters unanimously agree that the swashbuckling Pakistan batsman is here to stay.

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