“He has the potential to even beat Virat Kohli,” said Ramiz Raja about a certain Babar Azam, who has completely changed the face of Pakistani batting. Azam has achieved what nobody in Pakistan cricket did in the smallest amount of time that he has spent in International cricket. But can he topple Kohli or get past the records of the Indian captain in terms of batting?
Babar has the highest average in Pakistan cricket of all the batsmen that have made more than 3000 runs in ODIs. And he also has the highest number of hundreds in the same category. With 3359 runs in 74 matches at an incredible average of 54.17, Babar Azam has announced his arrival in the ODI cricket. In Tests though, he still needs to sharpen his skills, more so because he gets fewer opportunities to play Tests than the rest of the Fab-Four players, representing India, England, Australia and New Zealand.
Among the Fab-Four, which includes the likes of the Indian captain, Virat Kohli, New Zealand captain, Kane Williamson, Australia’s Steve Smith, and England’s Joe Root, it is Kohli who has personified batting and epitomized success. It, therefore, becomes natural that if an emerging talent like Babar Azam takes the world cricket by storm, he would be compared to the Indian ‘Run Machine’. The comparison becomes even more necessary because of the rivalry that the two neighboring countries share.
But the question remains, will he be able to do go past Kohli? And primarily there are three points which give Babar Azam a chance at achieving the feat.
Babar’s hunger for runs
“I don’t feel any pressure if anyone compares me with Kohli or (Steve) Smith. I am now more focused on my batting.” Babar Azam said this after he was compared with the Fab-four. This gives an exact picture of how determined he is to get the runs behind his back. And being aloof from the competition only increases that hunger for runs. Over the years, the Lahore born batsman has improved himself and that too drastically. From an average of 38.33 in the first year of his international career, Babar scored 1000 runs in a calendar year for the first time at an average of 60.67 in 2019.
In Test Cricket too, Babar’s improvement is encouraging. The man who scored just 184 runs in 12 innings at a pathetic average of 16.73 in the year 2017, suddenly woke up from the slumber and has since scored at an average of more than 55 for the last two years, improving his career average drastically.
In the T20Is, Babar Azam is a phenomenon. He has retained his position of number one batsman in the ICC T20I rankings for the last two years and is also the first man to have retained it. His averages of 62.56 and 41.56 in the last two years are testimony of his hunger for runs.
It is his this hunger for runs and aloofness from comparisons, that gives him an excellent chance of going past Virat Kohli in near future.
Babar vs Kohli across formats
Ramiz Raja saying that Babar Azam can beat Virat Kohli in years to come is not baseless, especially if you look at the performances of Babar Azam in light of how Kohli performed during the same time period in his career.
After 74 ODI matches, Babar Azam has 3359 runs and his average is 54.18. At the same time in Kohli’s career, the Delhi born batsman had scored 2,860 runs at an average of 44.68, which is amazing by any standards, but not equal to or near Babar Azam’s. Not only that, but Azam has also surpassed Kohli when it comes being the fastest to reach the landmark of 1000, 2000 and 3000 runs respectively in ODIs.
In Test matches too, Babar’s records at the moment look better than Kohli’s. While Babar has scored 1850 runs in 48 innings of 26 Tests at an average of 45.12, Kohli, on the other hand, had amassed 1758 runs in 45 innings in the same number of Test matches at an average of 39.06. This record also includes the two Tests of the torrid 2014 England series.
T20Is, a different ball game altogether, also has Babar Azam being equal to Kohli, if not better after 38-match stage in their respective careers. In 38 T20Is, while Babar has scored 1471 runs at an average of 50.72, Kohli had managed to accumulate 1327 runs, but with a slightly better average of 51.03.
The results above are clear evidence of how Babar Azam is ahead of Kohli, when it comes to comparison between the two, at the stage of Babar’s current performances in light of Kohli’s at the same stage in his career.
The age factor
Players peak at a particular time and they also have a slumber in between their careers. While Kohli seems to be going through the slumber as he has not been able to score a century for the past 18 innings in international cricket, age is also a big factor for him.
At 31 years, Kohli is now looking at the career of maximum 4-6 years in the international arena and with the rapid increase in league matches and FTP tournaments along with the kind of ventures he has taken upon himself, it is certain to take a toll on his form and fitness.
Babar, who is just 25 years old, is now looking at 10-12 years of international cricket ahead of him. The kind of form, consistency, and determination he has showcased, it would not be a surprise if he goes past Kohli in the long run. And as Ramiz Raja had said, it is now up to Babar Azam to shape himself because as far as talent and potential are concerned. “For Babar Azam, [the] sky is the limit.”