Babar Azam
Babar Azam, appointed as Pakistan's captain in 50-overs format as well last week, launches into one of his favourite cover drives. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Ask any cricket afficionado as to which batsman has the best cover drive in the game today - and chances are you will come across the following three names in all the nominations: Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Babar Azam. The last-named, who has been appointed Pakistan captain in the 50-overs game as well last week, has been easily one of the best things to have happened to Pakistan cricket in the last five years.

The decision to appoint the country’s best batsman as the overall captain in the white ball game, as justified by their head coach and chief selector Misbah-ul Haq, is with an eye towards the 2023 ICC World Cup. As the 25-year-old tries to come to terms with the mantle of being one of the best batsmen in the world as well as the challenge of captaining one of the most unpredictable teams in the world, comparisons with his Indian counterpart Kohli have already begun in earnest.

“He [Babar] has emerged over the last year or so into something that is going to be so special. We talked about how Virat Kohli is so good on the eye as a batsman. If you think Virat Kohli is good to watch, have a look at Babar Azam bat. My gosh, he is something special,” Tom Moody, former Australian player and now a reputed coach for T20 franchises, said in a podcast last week.

This is where Younis Khan, former Pakistan captain and the country’s highest run-getter in Tests, has a word of caution. Speaking to Gulf News during a telephonic interview from Karachi, Younis felt any comparison between Kohli and Azam may get the eyeballs but is unfair on the latter at this stage. ‘‘You see, Kohli - who is now 31 and at the peak of his career - has been in international cricket for over a decade now and has proved himself in all conditions. The 70 international centuries that he has scored is a testimony to his class and abilities.

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Babar Azam shapes to play a shot during Pakistan's Test match against Australia in Abu Dhabi last year. Image Credit: AFP

‘‘Babar, on the other hand, has made his international debut barely five years back. He already has 16 centuries under his belt and shows very good averages in both Tests and ODIs, but it will be unfair to start comparing the two right now. If you have to, compare Babar five years hence with the dominance that Kohli is showing in his game today,’’ said Younis, easily one of the alltime greats among Pakistan batsmen.

Lavishing praise on Azam, who grabbed attention soon after his debut when he hit three ODI centuries on the trot against the West Indies in 2015 in the UAE, Younis said his willingness to learn will take the batsman far in his career. ‘‘Babar made his debut during the last two to three years of my career and I was really impressed by his humility. I have always felt that the more humble you are, you can achieve bigger goals in your life,’’ he observed.

Younis felt that the one-day captaincy could not have at a better time for Azam. ‘‘It’s one of the right decisions taken by Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) after a while. Though he may not look it, Babar is quite a resilient boy and he excelled in the T20 format even with the additional responsibility of captaincy. This certainly showed he was ready for bigger things, though it would be quite a challenge as captaincy in the 50-overs game demands a lot more thinking.

Babar made his debut during the last two to three years of my career and I was really impressed by his humility. I have always felt that the more humble you are, you can achieve bigger goals in your life.

- Younis Khan, former Pakistan captain

‘‘It’s a young team that he has to lead, though there could be a few players senior in age to him. He has to be protective about the team and take it forward,’’ the batting legend said.

Azam, who had a heady 2019 season with the bat, is quite realistic about the comparisons though. “Look he (Kohli) has already achieved a lot. He is a legend in his country. Honestly, there is no comparison with me right now but eventually, I also want to get where he is today,” he said in an interview late last year.

“The media and people have drawn comparisons between me and Virat Kohli but I realize that I still need to get more runs in red-ball cricket to be ranked among the top players. That is why in recent months I have been focusing a lot on getting consistent scores in Test matches,” he added.