ISLAMABAD: Sarfaraz Ahmed was received like a prince by Pakistan’s cricket-mad fans when he returned from England with the Champions Trophy in 2017.
Two years later, the Pakistan captain is being described as ‘brainless’ with his team pushed to the brink of elimination from the ongoing World Cup.
Pakistan have won just one of their first five group matches at the World Cup, against top-ranked England. A heavy loss to India last weekend in Manchester likely means Pakistan need victories in each of their remaining four games, starting against South Africa on Sunday at Lord’s, to stand a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals.
Sarfaraz appears to be bearing the brunt of the criticism back home, particularly since the 89-run loss to India on Sunday. That was Pakistan’s seventh straight loss to India at a World Cup.
Former Test cricketers Ramiz Raja and Shoaib Akhtar have been particularly vocal in hitting out at Sarfaraz.
“It was a no-show [by Pakistan]. India didn’t allow them to come close,” Ramiz, now a renowned TV commentator, said in a video message on his YouTube channel. “It was a useless performance, a third-class performance by Pakistan.”
Former pace bowler Shoaib, who has long questioned the fitness and leadership qualities of Sarfaraz, went further.
“How can he be such a brainless captain?” the outspoken Shoaib said of Pakistan’s ODI skipper for the past two years. “Brainless captaincy, brainless management, at the same time no thinking.”
What made the Champions Trophy success particularly memorable in 2017 was the identity of the team that Pakistan beat in the final: India.
In that match, India captain Virat Kohli won the toss and sent Pakistan in to bat. It proved to be an ill-advised call. Sarfaraz made the same mistake last weekend.
Making matters worse, Sarfaraz went against the advice of prime minister the 1992 World Cup-winning captain Imran Khan who suggested in tweets hours before the match that Pakistan should bat first if it won the toss.
The team selection against India was also heavily criticised, both on social media and on dozens of talk shows on private television channels in Pakistan.
Pakistan opted to go with two regular spinners Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim even though India’s batsmen have dominated slow bowlers in international cricket.
Sarfaraz getting caught on camera yawning on two occasions while keeping wicket hasn’t gone down too well, either.
“How could you yawn in an international match when you know there are dozens of cameras around you? This is disgraceful,” said Imtiaz Ahmed, a cricket fan in Islamabad.
After three losses, Pakistan are in next-to-last place in the 10-team standings, ahead of only Afghanistan. The position is similar to the one in which the Pakistan found themselves in 1992, when the team had three points from their first five matches.
Imran’s so-called ‘cornered tigers’ went on to win their remaining three league matches, sneaked into the semi-finals after West Indies lost Australia in the last league-round fixture, defeated New Zealand and then beat England in the final.
This team has the reputation for being unpredictable, but there seems a slim chance of anything like that happening again.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2019