Sarfraz and The Lead Story

Published February 8, 2018

THERE is this story from the French revolution. A man on the sidewalk saw a small mob walking towards the barricades manned by French troops, shouting their freedom and revolutionary slogans.

Right at the end, a few yards behind the last row, he recognised a friend following them and shouting the same slogans with even more vigour. He shouted to him to get away from this crowd as they were marching straight to their death.

The man at the end refused.

Upon several beseeches the friend asked in frustration, “You are going straight into death. Why must you follow them?”

His friend looked at him as the firing started and men started falling and replied, “I must follow them. I am their leader.”

Leadership can be inspirational and men have taken bullets on their chests for only a few inspiring words, often knowing the man giving the orders has not his life at stake.

There is the awfully planned charge by a small group which inspired Lord Tennyson’s epic Charge Of The Light Brigade that stands up for that.

And yet there is the last charge of the natives in the film Zulu; a true story where, when the camera pans back, you see hordes of dead bodies yards away from the last stand of the handful of British troops led by Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead who stood alongside them to repulse the attack.

Yes leadership styles vary. And in cricket, the captain is visible like no other team sport. He must lead either quietly or petulantly. It depends on his personality and how he has fought his way to the position. It also depends on who he is leading.

As such, when there has been a lot of ruckus on how Sarfraz Ahmed led in New Zealand and whether his quarrel with Hasan Ali should have been on at all, leadership style has come into discussion.

Funny that some critics are questioning him when it was the same animated Sarfraz who in similar fashion marshalled the same set of men to an unimaginable lifting of the Champions Trophy.

And he was praised by most who pulled him down in New Zealand.

Yes, he is no Imran Khan or even Wasim Akram and by his own admission — though I would disagree — he is not a world-class player.

Imran could be vicious in his castigation on the field as well and so would Wasim, though he found out in very his first stint that even his closest friends rebelled against him despite backing his claim to captaincy after the Australian tour of 1992-93.

They believed they had fallen into the fire after seemingly upset with Javed Miandad’s style of constant advice that almost became unstoppable chatter.

Yet Miandad was arguably the greatest reader of cricket psychology and could outwit the strongest teams on his day. The Pakistan team owed several of their victories to his genius even when he wasn’t the captain.

Likewise Misbah-ul-Haq, the perennial quiet man of Pakistan cricket, who maneuvered fantastic victories with an Agatha Christie twist near the end.

Despite similarities with Inzamam, who could strike quiet terror into his men despite being laid-back, he was the pacifier and could play the waiting game well.

But his undue patience and apparently laissez faire style in the shorter format let wins slip by for want of a little physical urgency and more aggressiveness.

He was closer in style to Rashid Latif who with his poker face never gave away his hand and took victory or defeat with a quiet demeanor like no other captain I have seen.

Sarfraz perhaps comes closest to Moin Khan and Younis Khan in his style, though Moin was more of an ‘urger’ than a strategist that Younis was.

Yes, Younis was the very antithesis of diplomacy and tact in getting the best out of his men but, my word, he could penetrate the weakness of a batsman from a hundred yards and play him on that till he got his spoil.

He was the cat among the pigeons once he crafted his first wicket or broke a long partnership.

He could encapsulate the batsmen with close-in fielders placed to perfection, if only to cunningly manoeuvre a clean bowled as he did when last year West Indies, with a wicket left, needed seven balls to play out a draw.

Younis signalled Yasir Shah from slip to bowl slightly outside the off stump after Misbah had crowded Gabriel with a horde of fielders.

The batsman was tempted to hit out and inside edged to his stumps just as Younis had planned.

Sarfraz has that insight also. He is perhaps the most involved leader since Miandad, constantly at the bowler’s ear.

It’s partly because he can see a weakness that needs to be exploited and his frustration is borne out by either the inexperience of the bowling attack or its lack of focus.

Yes, it is not often a pretty sight, especially to the western media who come from a culture where it is very rare to display emotions when things go awry, especially when you are the captain.

But the Pakistan team performs best when it is pushed. Imran did it less flamboyantly only because right from the start his bowlers were all very junior to him and became even more so as he progressed down the years to lifting the World Cup.

Except Sarfraz, even though he has a similar situation give or take Malik or Amir, and Junaid when he plays, has had to fight for acceptance.

Reason is that players are aware that he is there as captain only because the PCB had no other choice, even though he should have been there even if the PCB did have a choice; such is his cricketing acumen.

Waqar and Ramiz may wax lyrical today but it wasn’t very far back when they were putting him down publicly; and come a little window today they do voice their concerns.

The selectors even pushed Kamran Akmal as a batsman at him in West Indies in the hope that if he scored runs then they would probably bring him back as wicket-keeper were Sarfraz to err. Such is the pressure under which he has been playing.

Sarfraz has said that this is the way he is and this is the way he intends to remain.

Brave of him but there is no harm in calming down. Wasim Akram did and was better off. Javed Miandad didn’t and eventually paid the price.

You have to give your bowlers some space as Misbah did.

Sarfraz is playing with seniors under him and they aren’t much pleased that they are not leading, if only to have a secure place in the team.

Sarfraz needs a mentor at the moment. Maybe someone like Younis Khan or Misbah. And the quicker the better.

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2018

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