IN the end, the pressure finally told. There had been a substantial amount of it, gargantuan almost around Babar Azam and his role as the captain of the Pakistan team. The side’s limp World Cup exit was the final straw with Babar announcing yesterday he was stepping down as Pakistan’s all-format captain.
For Pakistan’s star batter, their mainstay, it’s perhaps the best decision; a chance to be away from the continuous glare and focus on what he does best.
Batting greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli thrived without the burden of captaincy and Babar has expressed he would like to be in the team as a player. But the way it has come about, the circumstances around it, were far from ideal.
Throughout Pakistan’s World Cup campaign in India, there has been a smear campaign against Babar, almost villainising him for Pakistan’s underwhelming performances.
Not even the Pakistan Cricket Board spared him, sending out a statement during Pakistan’s run of four straight losses at the tournament that Babar and chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq had been given a free hand to choose who they wanted in the team.
Accusations of favouritism had been rampant, Babar’s contemporaries who were not in the side continued to spew fire against him. It was widely reported that the PCB was trying to force Babar out.
It was in the backdrop of all this that Babar met PCB’s interim management committee chairman Zaka Ashraf on Wednesday. The spotlight was sharp, every move being scrutinised as Babar came to Gaddafi Stadium. As he left, cricketers at the adjoining National Cricket Academy chanted slogans in his favour.
During his time as captain, Babar has divided opinion but there remains no doubt that he remains Pakistan’s batting mainstay. There were questions over his decision-making as captain but there are no questions about his class.
And therefore whoever becomes the new captain, regardless of past grudges, should welcome Babar with open arms into the team. The inquest will continue in the coming days with the future of team director Mickey Arthur also to be decided.
Chief selector Inzamam had already resigned during the World Cup after a potential conflict of interest investigation was opened. Pakistan cricket seems to be headed for a fresh start but the PCB also needs to learn from its recent mistakes. The best players should be lionised instead of villainised.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2023