Azhar named new Test skipper, Babar to lead in T20s

October 19, 2019

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LAHORE: Pakistan’s newly-appointed Test captain Azhar Ali gestures during a news conference on Friday.—M. Arif/White Star
LAHORE: Pakistan’s newly-appointed Test captain Azhar Ali gestures during a news conference on Friday.—M. Arif/White Star

LAHORE: A prolonged bad patch with both bat and gloves and a shocking T20 home series loss against a depleted Sri Lanka team this month cost Sarfraz Ahmed the Test and T20 captaincy on Friday as the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) replaced him with middle-order batsman Azhar Ali as the new Test skipper while promoting vice-captain Babar Azam to lead the T20 team on the upcoming tough tour of Australia, starting from Oct 26.

Though the PCB made attempts to convince Sarfraz to step down voluntarily and take time out to regain his peak form, the wicketkeeper-batsman refused the offer and decided it would be better if the PCB sacked him.

Dawn learnt that PCB chief executive Wasim Khan went to Faisalabad to meet Sarfraz on Friday morning to convince him to step down from the captaincy due to his poor form with both bat and gloves but he refused to budge and asked the PCB to remove him instead.

Sarfraz sacked after refusing to step down voluntarily

As captain Sarfraz had a good winning ratio, both in the in ODIs and the T20s, but in Test cricket the country has failed to show encouraging results and have slipped to a poor seventh place now.

Later Azhar Ali, who was in running as Test skipper, was finally named for the post while Babar was named as the T20 captain.

Soon after the announcement, Azhar also addressed a press conference to highlight his future plans.

Under Sarfraz’s captaincy Pakistan played 13 Test matches, winning just four and losing eight while one ended in draw. In the ODIs, Pakistan featured in 50 matches, winning 28 and losing 20 as two ended in no result. In T20, the performance was quite good. Pakistan played 37 games under Sarfarz’s leadership, winning 29 and losing just eight to emerge as world number one.

However, Sarfraz’s individual performances during the last one year left a lot to be desired. In the last six Test matches he could score only 200 runs at an ordinary average of 20.00. In the last 21 ODIs he scored 486 with a modest average of 37.88. And in T20 cricket, he struggled to score just 101 in the ten matches he played in 2019.

Paying tribute to Sarfraz, Azhar said: “Sarfraz Ahmed has done an excellent job in transforming raw talent into experienced players and I now look forward to inspiring those skillful players in our endeavours to collectively achieve our World Test Championship objectives and beyond.

“These are exciting times in Pakistan cricket with a new team management in place. As a captain, I feel comfortable that there will be number of knowledgeable people in the hut whom I can rely on for advice and guidance.

“I am not only targeting wins, but also aim to provide opportunities to players to grow in stature and express themselves so that Pakistan cricket can resume its journey to the top. I have always played my cricket the hard way, but in a fair manner, and will ensure that I continue to uphold the spirit of cricket and enhance the image of the team and the country.”

Azhar, 34, further said: “The ICC Test Championship is the biggest challenge and it is like World Cup. When I took as One-day captain Pakistan was at the seventh place and now Pakistan is again at the seventh in Test cricket and now we have to go up. Almost all teams are better than Pakistan in rankings and we have to play fearless and positive cricket to get out of that situation.

“I am also thankful to Sarfraz and the way he led Pakistan was a good part. I have just talked to Sarfraz over phone and my full support is for Sarfraz,” he said.

To a volley of question about the next tour of Australia, Azhar replied: “No doubt, it has always been a tough assignment. But we have to play fearless and positive cricket and it will also be window for the young bowlers to click in the absence of experienced fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz. We will see consider giving chances to some young fast bowlers and spinners who could make a good attack along with with experienced ones such as Muhammad Abbas and Yasir Shah.”

Azhar said he had played a lot of cricket with current chief selector-head coach Misbah-ul-Haq and have had great understanding and working-relationship in the past. “I am very comfortable with Misbah in the saddle and his dual role would help a lot to select like-minded team which was not possible in the past,” he said.

Azhar, who has played 73 Test matches and have scored 5669 runs at a fair average of 43.27, added: “This time I accepted the captaincy with the assurance that it will not be short-term but a long-term assignment.”

When pointedly asked if his approach would be defensive like that of Misbah, Azhar said: ‘Captain has to lead the team keeping in mind the playing capacity of his players. But the people sitting outside have their own views about defensive or aggressive approach.

Meanwhile, T20 captain Babar Azam, the No.1 ranked batsman in T20Is whose only prior experience of leading Pakistan was in the ICC U-19 World Cup in 2012, also addressed the media and said: “To be named captain of the No.1 ranked side in the world is the biggest thing that has happened to my career so far. I am ready for this challenge and also willing to learn more in the process. I feel it has been a natural progression for me and I am delighted that the PCB has put faith in my capabilities.”

Azhar said that Pakistani players needed to develop a culture to be more productive under pressure and he would do his best efforts to achieve that target.

“Yes win is important but building a culture in the team of performing under pressure is my top priority,” he said.

Asked as captain if his priority for wicketkeeper would be Sarfraz, Adnan or Kamran Akmal, Azhar said: “No one can question the abilities of Sarfraz. Yes, he is going through a bad patch and sometime a rest can help a player a lot to get out of that frame of mind. Let me sit with Misbah and then we will see which is the best choice and who could be picked.

“Sarfraz led the side in this shortest format by example and it is my responsibility to take forward his accomplishments so that we remain a consistent, attractive and powerful side,” Babar further said.

Sarfraz also issued a statement on the occasion.

“It has been an honour to lead Pakistan at the highest level. I want to thank all my colleagues, coaches and selectors who have helped me in this journey. My good wishes are with Azhar Ali, Babar Azam and the Pakistan cricket team, and I hope they will continue to grow stronger and stronger,” he said.

Meanwhile, a PCB statement issued on Friday said: “The appointments [of Azhar Ali and Babar Azam] were confirmed after Sarfraz Ahmed was left out of both formats due to drop in his overall form during the past few series.”

Seventh-ranked Pakistan will play fifth-ranked Australia in two Tests in Brisbane (Nov 21-25) and Adelaide (Nov 29-Dec 3 (d/n)) before hosting Sri Lanka and Bangladesh for two Tests apiece.

Pakistan are also scheduled to play three T20s each against Australia (Nov 3, 5 and 8) and Bangladesh before the curtain falls on their international domestic season in early February 2020.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2019