Azhar Ali believes Babar Azam's rapid progression in Tests of late lands him a spot among the top batsmen in world cricket at the moment.
Babar, 25, struggled for consistency in Test cricket in the initial phase of his career but has subsequently racked up a plethora of runs in the conventional five-day format over a prolonged period.
He finished 2019 with 616 runs across six games at a steep average of 68.44, establishing his status as Pakistan's premier batsman in all forms of the game.
Currently the only batsman to figure in the top five of the ICC rankings for Tests, ODIs and T20Is, Babar's turnaround in Test fortunes can be traced to his dream run-spree in Australia last year.
Babar struck a tremendous century at Brisbane and followed it up with 97 in the next game, setting up a glorious exhibition of immaculate strokeplay.
"Definitely, Babar is among the top batsmen across all three formats. People were earlier reluctant to include him in the elite group of batsmen owing to his mediocre show in Test cricket," Pakistan Test captain Azhar told Cricingif in an Instagram live session.
"Everyone's opinion has radically changed following his heroics during the Australia tour. I think he has overtaken a lot of class players. His hard work and voracious appetite for making runs is helping him ascend the rankings."
Delving into Babar's lean run in the format, Azhar credited previous head coach Mickey Arthur and chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq for sticking with the youngster despite his repeated failures in the past.
"He initially struggled in Test cricket because he had not really performed in first-class cricket. There was a dearth of first-class centuries in his domestic career but the management believed he had the potential to succeed," Azhar added.
"Mickey Arthur and Inzamam-ul-Haq were criticized for persisting with Babar in the Test side but he eventually repaid the faith bestowed in him. Credit goes to them for backing Babar in tough times."
Babar's incessant rise has naturally induced comparisons with some of the present greats of the modern era, most notably with Indian batting maestro Virat Kohli.
When asked about Babar's status with respect to Kohli's mighty feats, Azhar said it was too early to make such an assessment.
"At the moment, Babar is on the rise. He has probably not gotten enough opportunities like Kohli but the Indian skipper is superior in terms of his achievements and his status is also greater.
"On skill level, Babar is as good as any batsman in the world."
Azhar also shed light on his personal goals of recouping his confidence in Test cricket given a string of cheap scores.
The 35-year-old averages a mere 22.07 over his last eight matches in comparison to his career metric of 42.58 and he is keen to nullify his batting woes in the future.
"Getting my batting average in excess of 45 is a realistic target for me. I believe a good Test player must average either 50 or close to it but my form slump in the last year or so has resulted in a dip in my average," he stated.
"I will try to get my average close to 47 and keep myself fit enough to represent Pakistan in 100+ Test matches. I hope to revive my consistency in the format and reach the heights of success that I achieved from 2014-2017."
With cricket coming to a screeching halt amid the coronavirus pandemic, there are discussions over resuming the sport in some form in front of empty stands.
Azhar has backed this proposition of playing behind closed doors, jokingly referring to Pakistan's decade of exile in the UAE where stadiums were sparsely populated during their Test encounters.
"We are used to playing without crowds given the number of matches we have participated in the UAE over the past decade. That was an unfortunate way in which we played our 'home' games. The absence of spectators would thus not be an issue for us.
"Playing cricket behind closed doors is not the only challenge since there are a lot of people involved in conducting a series, not just the players and the broadcasting crew," he warned.
"If everything proceeds in a controlled manner, I don't think any cricketer would pass up the opportunity to play for his country. Health and safety is the major priority and cricket can only resume in safe circumstances."