Right, so the inevitable has happened. After chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq and head coach Mickey Arthur were shown the door following a below-par performance by Pakistan in the 2019 ODI World Cup, the exclusion of Sarfaraz Ahmed from the squad is the final straw in the erstwhile Pakistan cricket management.
Sarfaraz has not only been removed as captain but has also lost his place in both the T20I and Test team for the Pakistan tour of Australia. The decision on the ODI captaincy has been withheld but it seems unlikely that Sarfaraz will return in that role.
The decision, however, poses a few questions. It was understandable if the PCB had done away with Sarfaraz right after the World Cup. The fact that they decided to give him a few more chances appeared logical given the absence of any other charismatic leader in the team and the T20 World Cup approaching.
That they dropped him on the basis of the whitewash in the T20I series against Sri Lanka at home is questionable. It seems more of a tactic to shift the blame from the newly appointed coach and chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq who was responsible for the inclusion of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad in the T20I side.
In fact, Sarfaraz had done exceedingly well after taking over the reins of the Pakistan T20I side following the 2016 T20 World Cup and took the team to the number one ranking in the ICC T20I charts.
If reports are to be believed, Sarfaraz was miffed with the inclusion of Akmal and Shehzad in the side but now has had to bear the brunt of the team’s pitiable performance, which was, to some extent, the byproduct of their inclusion.
That said, if his performances as a player are the metric to go by, Sarfaraz falls terribly short on that count. After scoring an unbeaten 61 to get Pakistan through to the 2017 Champions Trophy semi-final, Sarfaraz has captained Pakistan in 44 ODIs and has averaged less than 29. His average in the T20Is as well does not even touch 30 which is not ideal for a skipper.
“It has been a difficult decision to drop Sarfaraz Ahmed, who has performed well as a player and a leader. But, his loss in form and confidence is visible and, in the best interest of the team, it has been decided to leave him out and provide him the opportunity to reflect and regroup himself and try to reclaim his form away from international cricket,” Ehsan Mani, the PCB chairman, said after announcing the change in captaincy.
The PCB has categorically stated that Babar Azam will remain the T20I captain at least till the 2020 T20 World Cup to be held in Australia. Interestingly, there are already questions being raised within the Pakistani cricketing circles about the leadership skills of the newly-appointed captain.
There is hardly any doubt that Azam remains Pakistan’s best batsman in limited-overs cricket and his record speaks for itself. But, there is a sizable school of thought in Pakistan which believes that he lacks the proactiveness of a leader and that it can turn out to be a deterrent for Pakistan in the upcoming showpiece event.
Haris Sohail, who has cemented his spot in the Pakistan team white-ball outfit, many believe, could have been a better choice for the role. Sohail infused life in Pakistan’s World Cup campaign after his inclusion in the XI midway. Sohail averages 46.11 in ODIs, and over 50 since the start of the year. More importantly, he possesses intent, which Pakistan can certainly do with at the moment.
Azhar Ali being named the captain of the Pakistan Team in Tests seems a totally sensible decision. With him having already played 73 Test matches, he has enough experience under his belt to take on the role.
It did not help Sarfaraz that his form had been horrible in the longest format. He hadn’t compiled a Test century in five years and made three ducks in six innings in his last Test series in South Africa. Hence, it was becoming more and more untenable for him to retain his place in the Test team, leave aside captaining it.
Azhar, on the contrary, is the second-highest run-scorer in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam trophy. He would also have happy memories of Australia where he accumulated 406 runs from three Test matches on the Pakistan team’s tour in 2016-17, including a double ton.
All in all, with one decision, the Pakistan team’s white-ball cricket has been pushed into a phase of uncertainty. The decision to change the Test captaincy makes perfect sense with the team set to play a two-match Test series against Australia in November, even more so now that the World Test Championship has made each and every game increasingly important.
But, changing the T20I captaincy at a time when the team is not sure of itself and with the World T20 a year away can well turn out to be counter-productive.