If Sachin Tendulkar was the flagbearer of Indian cricket in the 1990s and 2000s, Virat Kohli is their quintessential superstar today. Kohli is a modern-day great, his legacy extends way beyond his stats or records as a batter. He is an inspiration to the world – millions of youngsters look up to him. The discipline he has carried with himself over the years which in turn has gone a long way into making him a champion that he is today is a super rare trait to have but one that is seen once in a generation and has propelled him to greatness. With 75 international centuries, he is next only to the legendary Tendulkar in terms of centuries and by the time he finishes, Kohli would have easily surpassed some of the records held by his former India teammate.
Plenty is common between Tendulkar and Kohli, and hence the debate as to who the better batter is between the two. Comparing players from different eras makes this task that much more difficult but inevitable in a stats-obsessed nation. Many have tried to draw parallels between Tendulkar and Kohli – some have made valid points; others haven’t, but former Pakistan spinner Saqlain Mushtaq has given Sachin the edge over Virat and called him the GOAT purely based on the quality of the bowling attacks the former India cricketer faced.
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“If there is one batter – and it’s not just me, the whole world agrees – there is no one bigger than Sachin Tendulkar. If you have to give a copybook example of any shot, people give Sachin’s example. Virat Kohli is a legend of today’s era but Sachin has faced extremely difficult bowlers. The bowlers of that era were something different altogether. Has Kohli faced Wasim Akram? Has he faced Walsh, Ambrose, McGrath, Shane Warne, Muralitharan? These were big names and they were all very clever bowlers. They knew how to trap you. Today there are two types of bowlers – one that will stop you and another that will trap you. Those guys knew how to do them both – especially trap batters,” Saqlain said on the Nadir Ali Show.
It is hard to argue with the Pakistan legend’s assessment. Having said that it is not Kohli’s fault that he has reached his peak in an era where there are two new balls being bowled simultaneously in ODIs with five fielders allowed outside the circle in the last Powerplay. Secondly, sure Sachin was up against some of the most legendary bowlers, the type of which is yet to be seen – his batting against Akram, McGrath, Allan Donald, Warne etc has been the stuff of blockbusters – but it’s not like the bowlers Kohli faces give him a walkover. James Anderson, Dale Steyn, Pat Cummins, Trent Boult, Shaheen Afridi, Nathan Lyon, Adil Rashid, Kagiso Rabada do not exactly serve dollies to Kohli either.
Another batter Kohli has often started getting compared to is Pakistan captain Babar Azam, which is another debate altogether. Babar is six years younger to Kohli, and made his international debut when Kohli had already become a bonafide star. Going by Babar’s performances, he could and should reached Kohli’s level, but in another 5-6 years’ time. Until then, all the noise surrounding the Babar vs Kohli debate makes less sense. Saqlain feels the same and although he reckons Babar has a long way to go to be compared to Kohli, he did give the Pakistan batter a bit of an advantage over Virat.
“Kohli and Babar are different players but both have their own class. But if you look at the beauty, perfection or technical aspects, Babar’s cover drives are much better,” mentioned the legendary Pakistan bowler.