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October 19, 2019

Pakistan sack Sarfraz as Test, T20I captain


October 19, 2019

KARACHI: The writing had been on the wall for Sarfraz Ahmed for quite some time. On his watch, Pakistan slipped to No.7 in the Test rankings and then failed to reach the ICC World Cup semi-finals in England.

But it was the unimaginable 3-0 whitewash at the hands of an almost second string Sri Lanka team in this month’s Twenty20 International series in Lahore that turned out to be the last nail in the coffin for Sarfraz’s captaincy.

For weeks, the indecisive top officials of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) kept pondering over their options. Publicly, they were expressing their support for the embattled Sarfraz. But privately, they were weighing the pros and cons of removing a captain, who won Pakistan the ICC Champions Trophy in 2017 and took them to the top of the ICC T20I rankings.

On Friday, they finally made the call by sacking Sarfraz as Test and T20I captain and axing him from the touring party for the forthcoming series against Australia. Short of options, PCB had to go back to Azhar Ali, the man who was sacked as Pakistan’s white-ball captain to make way for Sarfraz Ahmed back in 2016.

Azhar, one of Pakistan’s most reliable Test batters, will lead the team in the 2019-20 World Test Championship matches starting with a two-Test assignment against Australia. Babar, who was recently appointed vice captain, has been elevated as T20I skipper and will be in command at least till next October’s ICC T20 World Cup in Australia.

His removal is a big snub for Sarfraz, who was hailed as a national hero in 2017 when Pakistan won the Champions Trophy by beating old rivals India in a one-sided final. Sarfraz was given the option of resigning but he refused. According to sources close to him, Sarfraz believes that a lobby which had been working against him for quite some time finally succeeded in its plans.

However, he didn’t express any such displeasure in an official media release issued by the PCB. “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,” Sarfraz was quoted as saying.

Ehsan Mani, who had in the past publicly supported Sarfraz’s captaincy, said that the “difficult” decision was taken keeping in mind the team’s “best interest”. “It has been a difficult decision to drop Sarfraz Ahmed, who has performed well as a player and a leader,” Mani commented. “But, his loss in form and confidence is visible and, in the best interest of the team, it has been decided to leave him out and provide him the opportunity to reflect and regroup himself and try to reclaim his form away from international cricket,” he added.

“Sarfraz Ahmed’s contributions are second to none and being the gutsy cricketer and fighter that we all know he is, I have no doubts he will be back in Pakistan colours at some stage.” A dip in Sarfraz’s personal form was one of the reasons behind his sacking.

It was his form with the bat which helped him succeed Misbah as Pakistan’s captain. It helped him secure captaincy in all three formats. The last of his three Test tons came five years ago. He flopped miserably in Pakistan’s last Test assignment – in South Africa – with three ducks in six Test outings.

As captain, his form in both ODI and T20I formats have also been less than satisfactory. Azhar, meanwhile, will be hoping for better results in his second tenure as Pakistan captain. A veteran of 73 Tests, Azhar has been in fine nick and is currently the second highest run-getter in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

He is hoping to take Pakistan at the top of the Test rankings. “There is no bigger honour than to captain the Pakistan national cricket team in the pinnacle format of the game,” Azhar commented. “I feel humbled, excited and privileged, and with the support of the team, look forward to justifying the faith that has been entrusted upon me for the World Test Championship.

“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.” Babar, 25, declared that he was ready for the challenge.

“To be named captain of the No. 1-ranked side in the world is the biggest thing that has happened to my career to date,” said the prolific batsman. “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.”