Batsman Babar Azam made a return to the captaincy of the men’s cricket team on Sunday after the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced that he would lead the Green Shirts in ODIs and T20s as part of a “strategic move”.

In a post on social media platform X, the PCB said, “Babar Azam appointed as white-ball captain.”

It said the decision was made following a “unanimous recommendation” from the PCB’s selection committee and its chairman Mohsin Naqvi.

The PCB also shared a video clip from a meeting between Babar and Naqvi.

In a press release issued later in the day, the board said the decision was taken as part of a “strategic move aimed at ensuring player well-being and peak performance”.

It said Shaheen Shah Afridi had “undeniably proven himself as a star fast bowler” by leading Pakistan’s pace attack over the years but the board recognisesd the importance of rotation and rest to maintain his peak performance.

“This decision aligns with board’s commitment to safeguarding the longevity of the players, especially fast bowlers given their injury timelines in the past two years.”

The PCB said that keeping in mind workload management, the decision was to ensure that the main bowlers remained at the top of their game.

“The board does not want the national men’s team to run into injury crisis concerning the bowling resources as seen before the ICC T20 World Cup 2022, where Shaheen had to be closely looked after and ICC ODI Cricket World Cup 2023, where the team didn’t have the services of Naseem Shah.”

Meanwhile, Shaheen said that it was an “absolute honour” to lead the Green Shirts and he would always cherish the memories and the opportunity.

“As a team player, it is my duty to back our captain, Babar Azam. I have played under his captaincy and have nothing but respect for him. I will try to help him on and off the field. We are all one. Our aim is the same, to help Pakistan become the best team in the world,” he said, adding that Babar was well-equipped to lead the team and his appointment “reflects PCB’s confidence in his ability to inspire and unite the team towards success”.

For his part, Babar said: “It was a pleasure to play under Shaheen’s leadership in the recent T20I series. He is still young and is improving as a player and as a leader every day. As a captain, I have always valued his input and I will keep consulting him for important decisions going forward. We must take advantage of his strategic understanding of the game. Our joint aim is to make this team the best in the world.”

The PCB concluded that it was grateful to Shaheen for his contributions as captain and looked forward to his success on the field.

“He will be part of Pakistan’s core leadership group. We give our unequivocal support to both Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi as they embark on their respective roles, aiming to make Pakistan a top team in the world of cricket,” the PCB said.

Babar was first made the T20 captain in 2019, before taking charge of the Test and ODI teams in 2020.

Babar stepped down from the post in November last year, after Pakistan’s dismal show in the Asia Cup and the 50-over World Cup last year. Shaheen had replaced him as the T20 captain and Shan Masood had assumed the role as the team’s Test skipper.

Both, Dawn had understood, were kept in the dark by the national selection committee — recently “reorganised” by Naqvi — as it pondered over who to appoint as the next captain of the national team before agreeing upon Babar’s name on Friday.

Babar’s return means Shaheen’s T20 international captaincy stint will stay limited to just one series and the PCB’s ignorance towards his position as a stakeholder in the situation may cost it the Pakistan dressing room’s stability.

According to sources, many in PCB believed that the organisation made a mistake by not keeping Shaheen in the loop over captaincy and by just informing the pacer about its decision to bring Babar back as skipper.

“As both Shaheen and Babar are not on one-page for the last few months, the decision of appointing Babar without taking Shaheen into confidence may affect the unity within the national team as the fast bowler also has a good number of players supporting him,” sources close to the situation had told Dawn.

During nearly three years of Babar’s reign as Pakistan captain, senior players Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir had fallen out of the selectors’ favour and their chances of returning to the team were low. Both were openly critical of Babar’s approach as captain and were vocal about it on national television.

All-rounder Imad and pacer Amir, however, were brought back into the fore by Mohsin after calling off their international retirement recently and it is understood that both will be on Pakistan’s squad for the T20 World Cup, which is set to be held in the United States and the West Indies in June. However, with Babar as captain, things may get tricky.

“… the expected selection of pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim in the national team, after they had withdrawn their retirement from international cricket recently may not make Babar Azam happy,” the sources added.

After today’s development, Babar will also become a part of the selection committee, which comprises four former Test players — Asad Shafiq, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Yousuf and Abdul Razzaq along with data analyst Bilal Afzal.

On Saturday, the PCB had sent all the recently-appointed national selectors to Kakul to meet Shaheen and Babar Azam in order to sort out the contentious matter of white-ball captaincy.

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 had conveyed some tough conditions to the PCB for taking up the mantle again. Sources said Babar had sought supreme authority as captain and wants the hot seat for two years, at least. Moreover, the right-hander had demanded of the PCB not to make him accountable for Pakistan team’s performance in the upcoming World Cup.

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