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Sarfaraz takes defiant stance on captaincy, lauds team’s late resurgence

Updated July 08, 2019

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KARACHI: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed in jovial mood during a media conference at the National Stadium on Sunday.—Tahir Jamal/White Star
KARACHI: Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed in jovial mood during a media conference at the National Stadium on Sunday.—Tahir Jamal/White Star

KARACHI: Pakistan’s embattled skipper Sarfraz Ahmed on Sunday refused to be drawn into speculating his future as the ODI captain after failing to lead his side through to the World Cup semi-finals.

Addressing a crowded media conference at the National Stadium after having arrived in his hometown here on Saturday night from London, the all-format national team skipper Sarfraz opted to remain composed while making it clear the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should be asked about the issue of captaincy.

“Who am I to decide? The PCB had appointed me captain and they have the prerogative to make the decision if they want to bring a change [in captaincy],” Sarfraz, who had a grin on his face, said. “At this point in time I’m here to say thanks to all of you for coming today because I wanted to share details of Pakistan’s World Cup journey, which tragically ended on a premature note. However, I’m very proud of my team members for finishing the tournament on a high with four [straight] victories and we don’t have to say sorry for the early exit. As a team, we improved after a very poor start,” he said.

“The [net run-rate] permutations were definitely not in our hands once England beat New Zealand. We needed a sort of miracle to qualify [for the semi-finals] but it was not be. Everybody was drawing parallel with the scenario Pakistan faced in 1992.

“Realistically speaking, beating Bangladesh with a very big margin was hyperbole. I never said that Pakistan will score 500 against them on eve of the match as reported by some. What I actually said was that it would be phenomenal if we get that score batting first. But the playing conditions were demanding and that was end of the story. But I must say there is always room for improvement going forward,” the 32-year-old explained.

Sarfraz regretted the tirade in the social media after Pakistan’s defeats in back-to-back fixtures against defending champions Australia and arch-rivals India and pointed out there were several incidents that undermined the team’s morale.

“That was extremely distressing because we made a great comeback after that big defeat in the opening game against the West Indies since we beat pre-tournament favourites England. The momentum was on our side but tragically the following match against Sri Lanka was washed out and then the way we lost to Australia and India without playing as a combined unit and paid the price,” lamented Sarfraz. “With the next fixture [against South Africa] still a week away after a two-day break, I gathered all the players together for in depth discussions in which the [entire] team management was not involved.

“Those seven days [between the India and South Africa matches] were tough purely because of the nasty incidents which I had already reported to the PCB management and at the same time don’t wish to comment on all those outside negativities surrounding our team.

“But everything started to get right chiefly due to the words of encouragement from some current players present in England and the TV commentators. They all agreed such incidents shouldn’t take place because winning and losing is part and parcel of cricket.

“I simply told the players that somewhere we are not doing what we should’ve done. During the thorough meeting I gave my own observations on the first four matches and identified the areas that needed to be addressed. As a captain I couldn’t have asked for excellent inputs from all players who were previously mentally disturbed and deeply hurt by the negative tirade both from ex-players, fans and the social media.,” he said.

“The results of the last four games are in front of everyone because the team collectively responded brilliantly. I do admit we didn’t play to our potential and made mistakes upfront but I’m very, very proud of the way Pakistan bounced back. It was an outstanding team effort that led to us winning four successive matches at the backend of the league stage.

“I would also like to offer my gratitude to the coaching staff for uniting and motivating the entire team. [Head coach] Mickey Arthur worked like an inspirational figure, particularly after the tough times we had to endure following the India match. Nobody deliberately wants to be a loser and when the team starts losing, the angry reaction is inevitable.”

“All of us, like the whole nation, wanted to win the World Cup for the country but the luck was not with us. In hindsight, we may all say that had Pakistan played a different brand of cricket the situation could have changed.

“Of course it hurts deeply that we weren’t in the semi-finals but we couldn’t make it just because of [inferior] net run-rate. We were aware of the implications as regards improving our net run-rate but the state of pitches in the latter stage of the tournament dissuaded us from playing ‘fast’ cricket,” explained Sarfraz.

“The general behaviour of pitches during our games against New Zealand and Afghanistan were surprising and they were not like the typical flat one-day pitches we had anticipated. As we saw, the ball spun viciously at times and it was very tough for the batsmen to adopt an aggressive approach.

“Some people were of the view that we should’ve taken a daring route while batting against Afghanistan but they had three world-class spinners bowling. Our main objective was to win those games. The net run-rate factor was very much in our minds until that point but the spinning pitch forced a change of plans,” he added.

The skipper paid tribute to rising stars Babar Azam and Shaheen Shah Afridi as well as Mohammad Amir and Imam-ul-Haq, while thanking old guards Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

“Babar was the standout batsman for Pakistan with Imam also doing well. Shaheen showed he’s a special talent and Amir was his old self as the number of wickets [he took] proved. Hafeez didn’t perform as well he wanted but his experience was invaluable for the side. Malik didn’t get the chance for a farewell game but we as a team bid him well for the future.”

Meanwhile speaking exclusively to Dawn, the Pakistan captain said inclement weather in Manchester forced the pre-match plans to be altered beforehand for the marquee clash against India and that the decision to field first was taken collectively.

“Initially, our game-plan was to bat first just as we did in the Champions Trophy final. But it had rained two days in the lead-up to the India game. Mickey and I then decided that bowling-first option would be the way to go because batting in those conditions at Old Trafford would be quite difficult. The collapse [105 in 21.2 overs against West Indies] in Nottingham was still fresh in our minds,” Sarfraz revealed. “We also knew that Duckworth-Lewis factor would come into play frequently due to several [rain] stoppages. During the chase we were only nine behind on the calculations when play was held up but unfortunately, on resumption we lost too many wickets and the equation changed dramatically in India’s favour” he said.

“Luck also deserted us against Australia. To get back into a position from where we could’ve pulled off a sensational win was simply heartwarming. I thought Wahab [Riaz] played a wonderful innings to get Pakistan close until he got out to a good ball,” Sarfraz remarked. “Had we won that match who knows we might have been still in England and playing in the knockout round.”

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2019