Captaincy rigmarole

October 20, 2019

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THE PCB, with its knack of attracting controversy, has once again made a hash of a simple change of guard in the national cricket team. As the aphorism goes, ethics is about knowing the difference between what one has the right to do and what is the right thing to do. But clearly, this is lost on the cricket board which has its priorities mixed up as it assesses Tests, ODIs and T20s using the same yardstick. While there is no doubt that the cricket team’s performance in the Tests and ODIs during the past year and a half left much to be desired and called for a change in leadership, its brilliant performance in the T20 format has seen it perched on top of ICC rankings since January 2018 with no serious challenge from any side. On Friday, the PCB announced sweeping changes by bringing in middle-order batsman Azhar Ali as the new Test captain and the inexperienced Babar Azam as the new T20 skipper, in place of Sarfraz Ahmed. Azhar’s previous stint as ODI captain had ended abysmally in 2016. Handed the Test reins now, Azhar has the toughest of challenges awaiting him in the shape of the upcoming Australian tour. No Pakistan team has ever won a series Down Under, and both Azhar and Misbah-ul-Haq — head coach-cum-chief-selector — should be mindful of that.

However, a change at the top in Tests was inevitable since Sarfraz had clearly lost the zest to successfully lead the team in the five-day format. Having said that, his removal as T20 skipper is patently unjust given his fantastic record of 29 victories and only eight losses in the format at the international level. True, the home series’ whitewash at the hands of a depleted Sri Lankan side is impossible to defend. And yet, his fate should not have been decided on the basis of this defeat. Sarfraz deserved to be retained as T20 skipper. The PCB has erred by handing the T20 mantle to the team’s best batsman Babar, who has no prior experience of leadership in international cricket. With the added burden of captaincy, he is bound to feel the heat in Australia. The new dispensation at the PCB may want to show that it means business but all that it has done is to make decisions that are likely to backfire. Much of the team’s performance can be traced to how the PCB functions. That needs to change if Pakistan cricket is to go back to its winning ways.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2019