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Babar Azam
Source: Cricket World Official Twitter handle

The powerhouse of Pakistan batting line-up, Babar Azam recently turned 25. 74 One-day Internationals, 26 Tests and 38 T20s later, Babar Azam is now into the fifth year of his career.

Seldom is there a day on social media when Babar Azam isn’t compared to someone like Virat Kohli or where one isn’t marveling for the hundredth time possibly on the same day, on his cover drive.

Why that should be the case isn’t as important as realizing that there’s a reason behind highlighting Babar’s craft, his technique, and all of that. Since it all stems from Pakistan finally having found a batsman whose game can steer its narrative.

If you talk of temperament, class, consistency, then in Babar- the team have finally someone whose standards hold weight- if not dictate- in international media.

Perhaps averaging 54 at just 25 (in ODIs) is just one of the blaring reasons.

Against that narrative, if one tells me it’s still early to consider him in the bracket of the greatest batsmen of the current era, then I don’t know when is the right time to be?

Pakistan lacking talented batsmen in the middle-order for over a decade is not a faraway statement to make. And perhaps, that has been quite evident considering the way they have performed in bilateral series against top sides and ICC tournaments.

The arrival of Babar Azam, however, along with a couple of more young lads had sent a glimmer of hope to take the shape of reality. The Champions Trophy 2017 win was a testimony to that. Though, no other member besides Babar in that batting line is part of Pakistan’s current limited over’s scheme of things.

They have, however, turned a special talent into someone who can take the ship forward, who has the potential to turn around things single-handedly.

Having made his debut in 2015, he didn’t take too long to unleash his sumptuous cover-drives. You give him width; he would punish you with disdain. You ball him short; he won’t mind pulling you without a hint of doubt in his mind. He would be as strong on the back foot as on the front.

Consistency has always been a far-fetched thing in Pakistan batting and while Babar Azam’s early years looked promising, one question which always comes into the minds of every fan.

 

Does he have the potential to be counted among Pakistan’s greatest of all-time?

From making his debut in 2015, piling runs across formats to become the skipper in ODIs and T20s, the answer points to a resounding yes.

To his advantage, Babar Azam isn’t just some talented bloke with stylish cover-drives; he has got the desire to succeed, the will to scale heights.

He is a workhorse.

Babar started his career with a half-century on debut against Zimbabwe in 2015.

He made heads turn after playing an unbeaten 62-run match-winning knock against England in the first ODI of the four-match home series in 2015. Coming in at number six, Babar Azam stitched a 106-run partnership with Mohammad Hafeez and help win the game by 6 wickets.

The 25-year-old took the world by storm after smashing three consecutive centuries against West Indies. He scored his maiden century in the first match of the series, followed by two more in the next two games. He wrote his name in the record books for scoring the most number of runs (360) in a three-match ODI series.

The joint-fastest player to score 1000 runs in ODIs, leading run-scorer for Pakistan in both ODIs and T20s in 2016, highest run-scorer for Pakistan in the Australia series in 2017, No.1 batsman in ICC T20 rankings- Babar Azam had become a white-ball specialist by the end of 2018.

Babar, today, averages more than 50 in both T20s and ODIs. However, because he didn’t find his feet early on in Test cricket in comparison to other formats, the idea of turning the ‘fabulous four’ to ‘fabulous five’ club got suspended to a later date.

Come 2018, Babar would shut the critics, hitting a barrage of runs in Test cricket and thereby taking his average to over 45.

So, here’s the question which won’t go unanswered this time.

But all of these developments have also birthed a question, whose time, one could say isn’t right, even though the theme of the discussion is exceedingly palatable.

Is Babar Azam better than Kohli? Is this debate worth it?

Babar Azam
Source: Twitter

Babar Azam has 3359 runs under his belt in One-Day Internationals. The records would tell you that he has been piling runs at a faster rate than Virat Kohli. Babar Azam is currently the third fastest to complete 3000 runs in ODIs, achieving the landmark in 68 innings, while Virat Kohli took 75.

Babar Azam is averaging 50.7 in 38 T20s, while Virat averages 50.8 in 82 games. The strike rates are 128.1 and 138.2 respectively.

Pure numbers- right? Let’s delve deep.

Two years of a consistent-run in tests means that Babar has proved his Test credentials. He is certainly knocking the doors of greatest test batsmen of the current era, his average of 45.1 in 26 matches does suggest.

But wait, the debate isn’t finished yet!

How has Babar Azam fared against top sides?

Babar Azam has played six one-day internationals against Australia so far. He averages 52 against them. On his first Australia tour, he impressed everyone with his solid technique and classy cover drives. He finished as the second leading run-getter in the tournament.

In 6 T20s against Australia, Babar averages 69.5, however, his strike rate, at 125.23 is a sign of worry.

59 (38), 50 (38), 6 (7) were his scores on the 2017 T20 series.

Looks good on paper, but given that the lad opened the batting on all three games and failed to give solid starts in the first six overs, the runs have no significance. Pakistan ended up scoring 107 (15), 150 (20), 106 (20) respectively.

You see him play in the shortest format and he finds it difficult to meet the demands of playing aggressively. It was also quite evident in the PSL 2020, where he batted at a strike rate of 123.66.

On the contrary, Virat Kohli’s conversion rate, quite like his captaincy, is superb.

He knows how to fetch boundaries at a faster rate and thereby not taking the run-rate down. Virat has struck as many as eight centuries against Australia in 40 ODIs, which involves several match-winning knocks.

He averages 64.89 in T20s and strikes the ball at the rate of 147.10. In 16 matches, he has scored 584 runs against Australia. In fact, Virat Kohli has scored the most number of runs in his T20 career against Australia.

Babar Azam failed miserably on the tour to New Zealand in 2018. His scores in the ODI series read 0, 10, 8, 3, and 10.

In the T20 series which followed, he scored run-a-ball 41 in the first game, followed by 50 (29) and 18 (17).

While the Pakistan skipper averages 41.50 against Blackcaps, he is yet to produce match-winning master-class performances on Kiwi soil.

Virat averages close to 59.91, including eight half-centuries and five centuries against the Kiwis. Had it not been that horror show in the

On the New Zealand tour in 2020, his average could have been more than 62.

However, Babar Azam has had a great-run against other teams like England, South Africa, and West Indies averaging 45.64, 59.00, and 89.33 respectively.

Nonetheless, Babar Azam has been the scorer in chief for Pakistan for quite some time but still has a long way to match the level of Virat Kohli’s prowess, but what mustn’t be ruled out is that when Kohli was getting those great numbers in the early stages- which well, he’s always been getting- he was pitted against Tendulkar the way young Babar is with someone six years his senior today.

What’s important to note is that there’s this hunger to succeed, something inherent about Babar Azam.

On top of it, and much like Kohli- he’s got the will to improve.

The next couple of years would be quite interesting for the world as this could well become the most defining ones in Babar’s career. Moreover, it could also give us a better picture of whether the whole debate of “Virat Kohli vs Babar Azam” was even worth being invested in.

The ball’s in Azam’s court.

But what’s even more important, visibly more than the pitting of two endlessly-delightful-to-watch batsmen is that quite like the astonishingly admirable subject of comparison, Babar has all the ingredients to shape what should be a great career.

The numbers shall follow so long as he’s got the will to keep improving.

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