Virat lauds Sachin on the way back from the middle in his last Test against West Indies at Mumbai in November 2013
Virat lauds Sachin on the way back from the middle in his last Test against West Indies at Mumbai in November 2013

England‘s spin consultant and former Pakistan off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq has said that in the current generation only Virat Kohli has the wherewithal to be rated close to Sachin Tendulkar.

“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. “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.”

Saqlain has been part of many an enthralling battle with Sachin and had a relative measure of success against him. Most observers of the game would remember the battle between the two in the Chennai Test on Pakistan’s tour of India in 1999. Tendulkar played a brave knock of 136 battling back-spasm with the aid of medical help but more importantly, his sheer willpower. He was looking to take India home to the challenging target of 271 set by Pakistan. Most other Indian batsmen had failed and it was only Nayan Mongia who gave support to the Little Master in the daunting chase as he was involved in a century partnership with him.

With India at 254/6 and the target just 17 runs away, Saqlain produced an incredible drifter which was looped up into the blockhole as he had seen Sachin making room for himself to play it on the off-side. Sachin tried to loft it but it took the top-edge and ballooned towards covers for Wasim Akram to complete the catch and India were 254/7. Indian hearts were shattered as the three tail-enders meekly surrendered to Saqlain and Wasim within the next four runs and India lost by 12 runs.

Saqlain returned great match figures of 10/187 and was truly a match-winner on that day for his country. The thoroughly educated Chennai crowd were disappointed for sure but they acknowledged the Wasim Akram-led side’s sheer grit to emerge on top and gave them a warm round of applause.

RELIVE : Sachin’s first century against Pakistan

Sachin scored 1,057 runs against Pakistan in 18 Tests he played against them at a decent average of 42.28 and registered one more hundred, the famous 194* at Multan apart from the brave knock at Chennai.

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 0 4s 6s
18 27 2 1057 194* 42.28 2114 50 2 7 2 141 0

Saqlain took 25 wickets against India in four Tests he played against them.

Mat Inns Overs Mdns Runs Wkts BBI BBM Ave Econ SR 5 10
4 7 230.5 51 707 25 5/93 10/187 28.28 3.06 55.4 4 2

Saqlain got Sachin out three times in the four Tests he played against India and got him out on zero once. Along with Shoaib Akhtar and Shahid Afridi, Saqlain has the credit of having dismissed Sachin the most number of times in Tests amongst Pakistani bowlers. Sachin, on the other hand, had an average score of 47.33 on dismissal against Saqlain as compared with 36.33 against Afridi and 5.00 against Shoaib.

Mat Dismissals Mat/Dis Ave 0s
4 3 1.33 47.33 1

Saqlain just stopped short of equating Virat to Sachin but contended that India’s batting is heavily pivoted around him and if you take him out of the equation, things would get relatively easier for England.

He further said that India’s turnaround in the five-match series would largely boil down to how Kohli leads the batting line-up. Virat has been in sublime touch for India in the Pataudi Trophy against England this season. He has scored 440 runs in this series in the three Tests he has played so far with two centuries and two half-centuries. This compares really well with his figures on the disastrous 2014 tour to England where he scored just 134 runs in 10 innings across five Tests. Kohli had later blamed himself for his failure to adapt well against James Anderson and other English bowlers on that tour.

He led the way with a century and a resolute 97 in the Trent Bridge Test, as India staged a comeback in the series with their victory there. England are still ahead by 2-1. “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.

The former Pakistan off-spinner also talked about India’s ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and India’s bowling attack and their potential threat to England amongst other things.