Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - Pakistan's Sarfaraz Ahmed is born
May 22, 1987 - Pakistan have always been searching for stability in terms of leadership but the search has almost been never ending. It is therefore implicit that they haven't settled on some individual for long.
After the great Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis led Pakistan for substantial periods. Following a period of great uncertainty, it was time for Inzamam-ul-Haq who held the reigns of the side for 87 ODIs between 2003 and 2007. Misbah-ul-Haq also had a decent run from 2008 to 2015 but the leadership cap then changed heads from Shahid Afridi to Azhar Ali.
Sarfaraz Ahmed made his mark when he led Pakistan to the 2017 Champions Trophy title. It went a long way in establishing him as the leader of the side. He had taken Pakistan, the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, from underdogs to champions by ensuring that the team was single-minded and focused on their target.
Shortly after the win, he was appointed as the skipper of the Test side after the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.
Many first heard of Sarfaraz Ahmed when he led Pakistan's Under 19s to the World Cup title in 2006 with half-centuries in the 3rd and 4th matches. Soon, he was on song in domestic cricket with 523 runs from 10 matches including 28 dismissals as a wicketkeeper which got him into the Pakistan A team for the Australia tour of 2007.
Between his international debut in 2007 and 2014, Sarfaraz played just 4 Test matches, 4 T20Is and 26 ODIs. As opposed to the promise that he had shown in Under 19 cricket and First-Class cricket, he failed to repeat his heroics on the biggest stage.
During the aforesaid period, he did not even have an international half-century against his name. He was also in and out of the side with the Akmal brothers taking turns behind the wickets.
The batsman finally came of age with a 74-run knock in the second innings of the second Test against Sri Lanka at Sharjah in 2014. Although the team lost the match, the wicketkeeper-batsman gained a lot of confidence out of it and another 48-run hand in the next Test saw Pakistan chase down 302 in just 57.3 overs to level the series.
Over the next one and a half years, Sarfaraz averaged more than 70 and broke into the Pakistan side during the 2015 World Cup.
Sarfaraz was also crucial in Pakistan's rise in T20I cricket. When he took over the captaincy after the 2016 World T20, Pakistan were way behind the curve in the format. It was Sarfaraz who brought about a fundamental change in the team's approach and took them to the number one rank in the format.
However, his utility as an ODI batsman was always under the scanner. After scoring an unbeaten 61 in the semi-final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, Sarfaraz captained Pakistan in 44 ODIs and scored at an average of under 30.
His average in the T20Is during the same period was also under 30 with a below-par strike rate. But, it was Test cricket where Sarfaraz really fell short of the mark. Under his leadership, Pakistan lost three series in UAE, something that had not happened in the last seven years though one of the reasons for that was also the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Sarfaraz averaged under 25 across 13 Test matches as captain as opposed to his average of 41 before taking up the responsibility.
Sarfaraz was never the most gifted wicketkeeper and rose through the ranks due to his aggressive stroke play, which got lost over the last couple of years. The right-hander still has a chance of making a comeback in the Pakistan side, but with new talent on the horizon, it would be very difficult for the former captain to don the Pakistani Green again, especially without the load of domestic performances.
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