Virat Kohli is the cricketing equivalent of football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for his sheer commitment towards the game even though a KL Rahul can consider himself at par with the India captain in terms of talent, feels West Indies batting icon Brian Lara. One of the greatest batsmen to have played the game and for many, the best left-hander of all-time along with Sir Garfield Sobers, Lara says he is in awe of how Virat Kohli has honed his skills to take batting to an "unbelievable level".
"I think it has got a lot to do with Virat''s outstanding commitment besides his preparation. I don't think he is any more talented than a KL Rahul or a Rohit Sharma but his commitment to prepare himself properly stands out. He is, for me, the cricketing equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo," Lara told PTI during an exclusive interaction.
"His fitness level and his mental strength is unbelievable."
For the 50-year-old Lara, who scored nearly 12,000 runs in Test cricket, Kohli can fit into the best teams of any era -- be it Clive Lloyd's 'Unbeatables' of the 1970s or Sir Don Bradman's 'Invincibles' of 1948.
"His batting skills are unbelievable. He is a guy you cannot leave out in any era. If a guy is averaging 50 plus in all versions of the game, then that is something which is unheard of," the legend said.
Another player Lara praised was English all-rounder Ben Stokes, who enjoyed a stellar run in the Cricket World Cup and the Ashes.
Lara himself has been a part of some of the most memorable fourth innings chases against Australia where he batted with the tailenders.
Therefore, it wasn't surprising to see Lara gush about Stokes' Ashes-saving 135 not out at Headingley.
"It was an unbelievable innings that he played. You must give him the credit not only for that innings but also for his 84 not out in the ODI World Cup final. He came up through a very rough period couple of years back (Bristol pub brawl and subsequent suspension) and he has shown the mettle to put things aside and soldiered on as a cricketer."
Talk about West Indies cricket and how most of the talented players are being lured by private leagues, Lara refused to call them "mercenaries".
"Certainly not," said Lara, who didn't agree with the view, saying some of the illustrious predecessors in the late 1970s had already set the precedent by joining Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket (WSC).
"Each cricketer has to make a choice. Back in the day in late 1970s, there was Kerry Packer and there was an exodus of cricketers. I can't say that there''s something that's new.
"Not everyone will be playing for the West Indies. So if you can make a living playing T20 leagues then why not? I don't see it as a mercenary act," Lara said.