For Pakistan cricket team captains, the risks and rewards of a World Cup campaign are clear: you win it, and you become the captain, leader, legend — and even prime minister.
If you don’t win it, or you don’t even come close to winning it, at the very minimum you lose your captaincy. In worst case scenarios, you not only are no longer the captain but are also forced into retirement.
The guards of honour, the testimonial, the emotional send-off — you get none of that.
A 31-year-old Imran Khan in 1983 did not get the sack because his team had made the semis. A 35-year-old Imran Khan should have gotten the boot at the 1987 World Cup when his team botched a semi-final on home soil. But he retired himself, saving the board from a difficult decision before redeeming himself five years later.
"You can no longer afford to carry your captain for solely his leadership skills or stick with a wicketkeeper who is only a reasonable batsman
Wasim Akram would have probably been sacked in 1996 had he been part of the playing eleven that lost to India in the quarter-finals. His 1999 Pakistan made it to the finals so he survived. But his strike partner Waqar Younis’ 2003 Pakistan embarrassed themselves and he swiftly paid the aforementioned double price: sack and retirement.
The legendary Inzamamul Haq went through the same at the 2007 edition. He retired himself but his sacking was pretty much a given. In 2011, Shahid Afridi’s Pakistan made it to the semis — the minimum a captain needs to survive. And he did.
The quarter-final run of World Cup 2015 cost us Misbahul Haq, which brings us to the matter at hand: a 32-year-old Sarfaraz Ahmed.
The lengthy preamble finally gets to the point.
What we have here is another skipper at the wrong side of 30 whose team did not meet the minimum criteria.
Since the 1979 World Cup, no Pakistan captain who did not make the semi-finals has played another ODI for Pakistan. Akram in ’96 doesn’t count for reasons explained above.
Sarfaraz played in all the World Cup 2019 matches; his team did not make the semis; he averaged 6.28 runs less than his pre-World Cup career average of 34.88; is not a superstar a la Akram of ’96; and will be 36 by next World Cup. What's coming?
This should not be construed as an attempt to tarnish what the man has done in the past. No one would forget the Champions Trophy — but that was two years ago. This is now.
The modern game has changed a lot. You can no longer afford to carry your captain for solely his leadership skills, and you cannot also afford to stick with a wicketkeeper who is only a reasonable batsman.
In World Cup 2019, Australia captain Aaron Finch is averaging 56.33, Virat Kohli 55.37, Eoin Morgan 39.62 and Kane Williamson a staggering 91.33. Sarfaraz averaged 28.6.
Meanwhile, MS Dhoni, Alex Carey, Jos Buttler, Mushfiqur Rahim, Shai Hope, Quinton de Kock — these are not just wicketkeepers; they double as specialist batsmen. Sarfaraz demotes himself so as to avoid a tricky batting situation.
Truth be told, Sarfaraz has had a good run — great even. He touched the highs very few Pakistan captains have. The team’s winning percentage under him (56.52) is still higher than the great Imran Khan’s (55.92). But his powers have been on the wane for quite some time. Under his captaincy in 2019, Pakistan have lost nine of the 16 they’ve played, which gives him a winning percentage of just 37.5 for 2019.
It’s unfortunate that arguments backed with naked statistics and scientific evidence are often drowned out by empty rhetoric and tribalism in this country. Already there is a wave of blind support trying to turn this into a Karachi versus rest-of-Pakistan debate.
As a born-and-bred Karachiite myself, I can say this is not that. As much as I love the man, this is simply a case of cycle coming to an end, a brand of captaincy becoming dated, and a player fast approaching his expiry date, if not already past it.
It’s time to start anew.