Former Pakistan batsman Ramiz Raja thinks Babar Azam has the capability to outshine Virat Kohli provided he is provided a conducive environment to excel.

The 25-year-old Babar is one of the top batting talents to have emerged from Pakistan drawing comparisons with the likes of Kohli and Australian Steve Smith. He has justified the hype, scoring 6680 across formats since making international debut in 2015.

While he averages over 50 in limited-overs formats, in Tests he averages 45.12 and was appointed Pakistan T20I captain last October.

“There is no doubt about Babar Azam’s ability, he is a world-class player,” Ramiz was quoted as saying by PTI. “When people ask me about comparison between Babar Azam with the likes of Virat Kohli and Steve Smith I would say he can do even better than Kohli but he needs a conducive atmosphere and the freedom to express himself more as a player and as captain.”

Ramiz, who played 57 Tests and 198 ODIs, recently was involved in war of words with veteran Pakistan allrounder Shoaib Malik advising him and Mohammad Hafeez to announce retirement.

Clarifying his comments, the 57-year-old, says he acknowledges the contributions of the two seniors but the time has come to grooms youngsters “I have nothing personal against Muhammad Hafeez or Shoaib Malik who are senior players and have served the country for a long time. But I think now the selectors need to think about replacing them with youngsters and groom them properly,” he said.

The reintegration of Sharjeel Khan, who recently returned to competitive cricket after serving spot-fixing ban, has polarised opinions in Pakistan cricket. Raja though feels that bringing back tainted players is only damaging the sport in the country.

“You ask me I would say these tainted cricketers should open their grocery shops,” he said. “I have no doubt that giving concession to big names also damaged Pakistan cricket,” he said, referring to fast bowler Mohammad Amir who was banned for bowling deliberate no-balls during a Test against England.

“There is once again talks of redrafting Sharjeel Khan into the team which is not right and can damage Pakistan cricket,” he added.