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T20I Cricket - Should we really be comparing Babar Azam with Virat Kholi

April 1st, 2020Cricket
When Babar Azam made his debut on the international stage, he was immediately seen as the bright future for Pakistan cricket. The right hander ticked all the boxes of a batsman bound for greatness. So, perhaps it is understandable that some might want see how the young Azam compares with India superstar Virat Kohli. However, I always say yes you can compare skills in various departments of the game but no two characters are the same, they might be reminiscent of one another, but never exactly the same. And then there is character both on and off the field.

Character on the field is more likely being seen as mentally tough, having great powers of concentration, being able to read the game as a tactician etc. Off the field it is a gracious demeanour, exhibiting gravitas and wisdom as well as a sense of humour, and a philanthropic altrustic attitude. The common denominators and essential connection between these two contexts are honesty and humility.

Azam has indeed achieved a lot over the past few years, certainly done enough to earn the right of comparison with India’s legend in terms of ability. Azam is still relatively young, and if he continues to play with this consistent style and panache, he has every chance of breaking the records currently held by as well as being set by Kohli. Yet Kohli remains a brilliant cricketer who has performed at the highest level across the globe and Babar appears to be playing exceptionally well.

As of 2019 Babar Azam, who is six years younger than Kohli, averages above 50 in ODIs and T20Is which is around the same as Kohli when he was Azam’s age. Kohli started playing well in tests from 2015 or so onward, when he was aged 25 to 26. Babar Azam’s averages 35 in test matches and really has to improve his performance in the test arena to match up.

Yet amusingly enough, for all those who want to draw the comparison, Virat Kohli is actually Babar Azam’s idol and he is trying to follow in his footsteps, in fact he has voiced this aspiration in numerous interviews. Although in truth while they have some similarities in technique, their approaches to an innings are quite different. While Kohli is constantly on the hunt for singles and twos wherever possible to accumulate a big score, Babar tries to hit more boundaries. What they do have in common is that in both cases their shots are much more ‘wristy’ than a lot of their peers.

It is probably true to say that a lot of players reach their peak in their thirties, which gives Babar Azam a lot of time to improve. Though in all honesty, looking between the two, Virat Kohli is currently the best batsman. He averages above 50 in all formats and is the only player currently to do so. That said, he is not really in the top T20I rankings, but in his defence had played far fewer T20Is from 2018 to 2019, which is more likely to be the main reason behind his not making the top 10.

One massively important aspect of his game, which Virat Kohli has demonstrated constantly over the last few years is consistency. There simply isn’t currently a batsman with that level of consistency. Nonetheless, Babar Azam too is playing consistently well but will perhaps only earn the comparison once he has proved that he can perform consistently over a long period of time.

The Pakistani Run Machine

Yet Azam, as Coronavirus causes us to lurch through 2020 uncertain of any cricket to be played IPL included, is considered by many to be one of the classiest batsmen in modern cricket.

For some, Babar is the best T20I batsman in the whole world. Looking at his stats on 3rd of February 2020, his average T20I strike rate was above 128 and he is currently ranked number 1 T20 batsman. He accumulated 1000 runs in ODIs in no time at all, the joint fastest on the planet. He is the second fastest to five ODI centuries behind South Africa’s Quinton De Kock. Yet returning fleetingly to character, he is humble, despite his lightning run milestone achievements in short-format Pakistani cricket, toward his sources of inspiration, South Africa’s A.B. de Villiers and Pakistan’s Mohammad Hafeez, talking openly about their impact on his game.

He has always had style, hitting four sixes in his debut innings against Zimbabwe, finishing with 54 off 60 deliveries. A dazzling cover drive is among his hallmark strokes. Remaining motionless until the bowler releases his delivery, adroitly moves the front foot simultaneously with backlift, and as the ball arrives he meets it directly under the eyes, and allows the ball to follow through with a high elbow.

Babar is also a real team man, fitting seamlessly into every squad he plays with as well as working tirelessly on his fitness. Cricket is also in his bloodline as it were, he is the first cousin of much acclaimed Pakistani cricketing brothers, Umar and Kamran Akmal, growing up with their sage advice in the background.

The upcoming ICC T20 Men’s World Cup Australia 2020 is likely to be a showcase for both Babar Azam and Virat Kohli and it is a mouthwatering contest in prospect. In terms of world cricket, Kohli’s test record puts him ahead in the comparison overall, but it must be said despite the common wrist play factor for both, as well as being wonderful to watch on song, they are very different players. Time is still on Azam’s side to overtake Virat Kohli in a records sense, but he also has to prove his consistency credentials during that period.