LAHORE: While rumour-mongering mills continue to churn out stories of all kinds, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) on Saturday sent all the recently-appointed national selectors to Kakul to meet incumbent T20 captain Shaheen Shah Afridi and former skipper Babar Azam in order to sort out the contentious matter of white-ball captaincy.

This is the first step which the PCB has taken to solve the issue of national leadership, particularly in T20 format with just two months left before the T20 World Cup starts in the US and West Indies. The Pakistan team, which is currently without a coach, is undergoing a training camp at Pakistan Military Academy these days to prepare for next month’s T20 International home series against New Zealand.

Sources close to the situation told Dawn that Babar, who stepped down from captaincy in all three formats in the aftermath of Pakistan’s disastrous campaign at last year’s 50-over World Cup in India, has conveyed some tough conditions to the PCB for taking up the mantle again. And it will not be easy for the Board to accept all the conditions which it considers as “too harsh”.

After having several sessions in Lahore to decide on Pakistan’s white-ball captaincy, the selectors felt the decision to take back the national T20 leadership from Shaheen and give it again to Babar is not going to be an easy task, as it is strongly believed that both the players are not at good terms with each other.

Faced with this tricky situation, the PCB decided to send its selectors to Kakul to have the meetings with the duo besides witnessing the fitness level of the players at the camp.

Though the PCB it seems looks quite defensive at the moment and is not ready to share

any details about the issue, it is learnt that left-arm paceman Shaheen has refused to step down as T20 skipper, and is waiting for a PCB decision on the subject.

Moreover, there are rumours that only former Pakistan all-rounder Abdul Razzaq, who is one of the national selectors, has opined that replacing Shaheen as skipper after just one away series in New Zealand would not be fair. Whereas Mohammad Yousuf and Wahab Riaz — Razzaq’s fellow selectors — are in favour of handing the captaincy back to Babar.

Thorough consultations on the matter of changing white-ball captaincy featuring both Shaheen and Babar plus other key members of the national team like Shadab Khan and Mohammad Rizwan, one strongly feels, should have been the first move of the PCB.

However, the step has been taken now by the Board after several unconfirmed stories of all types on the issue of captaincy emerged in different sections of mainstream and social media which gave rise to controversies.

Meanwhile, Dawn learnt that Babar has raised some very strict terms and conditions to shoulder again the responsibility of leading the national team — which the PCB may not accept.

Classical batter Babar, sources say, has sought supreme authority as captain and wants the hot seat for two years, at least. Moreover, the right-hander has demanded of the PCB not to make him accountable for Pakistan team’s performance in the upcoming World Cup.

Keeping in view Babar’s pretty lacklustre captaincy in last year’s Asia Cup and the World Cup, one feels it will be very difficult for the PCB to accept the batter’s demands which it regards very harsh.

On the other hand, Shaheen has opted to keep silent and watch the end of the saga while deciding not to quit as captain of the shortest format. Though the selectors may try to convince the lanky left-armer to step down — which could be the first step to make the dressing room environment comfortable — whether the player will accept it remains a million-dollar question.

Dawn has learnt that there is also a feeling in the PCB that it would have been better if PCB chairman Mohsin Raza Naqvi had first met both Babar and Shaheen to take them into confidence before moving towards making a major decision on the captaincy.

Instead Mohsin first held a long discussion with the selectors on the matter and only now he realised how much significant it is to first take the players concerned into confidence.

Furthermore, it has emerged that the PCB also made a glaring mistake in the process of hiring head coaches for Pakistan’s white-ball and Test teams recently.

After Mohsin’s several meetings with the selectors, when the sources disclosed that former Australian fast bowler Jason Gillespie (white ball) and ex-South African opener Gary Kirsten (Test) had been finalised as head coaches, the PCB on the same day advertised the jobs for these positions and fixed April 15 as the last date for applying. Which means the PCB — till April 15 — would not be able to announce the names of head coaches while the home series against New Zealand is set to start on April 18 in Rawalpindi. The New Zealand squad is due to arrive in Pakistan on April 14 for a five-match T20 International series.

According to PCB’s rules, an advertisement for a high-profile hiring is compulsory.

There are chances, though slim, that the said series will be played with no head coach of the home team. The entire scenario signifies the unprofessional way the present PCB regime is functioning.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2024

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