He has been part of many enthralling duels with Sachin Tendulkar and Pakistan’s spin great Saqlain Mushtaq says Virat Kohli is the only current player who “comes close” to matching the standards of his legendary contemporary. “As a batsman, Sachin was a very big player. I cannot compare (two eras) but today Virat is the only one who comes close,” Saqlain told PTI in an exclusive chat.
England’s spin consultant Saqlain said that India’s turnaround in the five-match series would largely boil down to how Kohli leads the batting line-up. “We were talking amongst the English support staff about how he played at Trent Bridge. In this third Test alone, Jimmy Anderson beat his outside edge 40 times, and yet he played the next ball with so much confidence. Virat plays ball by ball, run by run and session by session. He has a tremendous hunger for runs and victory. When you have someone hungry like that, he can do anything to satisfy his hunger.”
Captain Kohli led the way with a century and a 97, as India staged a comeback in the series with a victory in the third Test at Trent Bridge. England hold a 2-1 lead in the series. In doing so, Kohli set straight his poor record from 2014. And Saqlain just stopped short of calling him Tendulkar’s equal.
“The way Virat is scoring runs, it is ominous for England. During the first Test, I saw a signboard that said it is ‘England versus Virat Kohli’. If you take him out of the equation, it will be very easy for England. If you see from a coaching point of view, it is because of him the others have scored runs whilst batting with him. Having a world class batsman like Virat in your team certainly boosts the entire batting line-up,” he added.
Having played against many Indian sides that were pivoted on singular pace attack leaders, Mushtaq also said that he was mighty impressed by this new crop of Indian pace bowlers who have caused South African and English batsmen a lot of trouble in the last six Tests.
“If you look at the statistics from the first three Tests, India’s pacers have bowled quicker than English pacers. When did that last happen? The way they walk, and present themselves, the way they bowl fast and move the ball, you look at the Indian pacers and think that they are proper fast bowlers.
“They have a lot of physical strength, and it shows in their walking and running. It signals that they have put in the proper hard work to become fast bowlers at this level and they appear professional in every sense of the word.”
The legendary off-spinner spoke about R Ashwin too, the spin element for India in this current Test series.
“Today, he is a world-class spinner. I remember four or five years ago, I spoke that he is a good bowler but not yet a world-class bowler. Back then, I saw potential in him. But it was important for him to play outside India, perform and learn, and only then he would be a ready bowler.
“I think that has happened, and we can see that in the way Ashwin has bowled in this series. The way he is controlling the ball at present, its shape coming out of hand, pace and trajectory shaping up, setting up and trapping left-handed batsmen.
“When I talk to young spinners, I tell them they have to trap different batsmen in different ways. When Ashwin is bowling, you can see he has different plans for different batsmen, and he is working them out. For someone like me who lives in the world of spin, it is enthralling to watch,” he said.
One of the key factors in England’s defeat was their poor catching. As a member of their dressing room, the former cricketer said there was nothing more than disappointment in the hosts’ camp and believed that all three facets will be key in the next two matches.
“Dropped catches are nothing new. When you take the field, that player who dropped a catch is still your teammate and buddy. While there is a sense of disappointment, there is no room for any ill will, because you have to eat, travel, stay and play together.
“If there is any team, which has ill will for dropped catches, then that is not a team. The only way to overcome this disappointment is to give your best and we know that English fielders are giving 100 per cent.”
“India finally showed why they are number one Test side, especially with Virat leading from the front. I don’t know how the series will pan out, but in both the next Tests, conditions will be heavily factored in,” he signed off.