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Writing on the wall – Exit Sarfaraz Ahmed

Sarfaraz Ahmed playing for Sindh today in the Zong 4G National T20 Cup

In axing Sarfaraz Ahmed, for the forthcoming tour of Australia, Pakistan selectors have taken a decision, that was least unexpected.

The wicket-keeper and lower middle order batsman, after seeing his side clean swept by Sri Lanka at home recently in a three-match T20I series, was clearly under increasing pressure. The only thing that could have saved Sarfaraz was his own personal contribution, which too was no longer substantial enough to save him.

Looking at the dismal run with the bat and quite ordinary work behind the stumps, the new selection panel headed by Misbah-ul-Haq, following a surprise defeat against a second-string Sri Lanka team, came to a conclusion that has not gone down very well in Karachi, a city where Sarfaraz originates from. A protest of a couple of hundred fans, in front of the former captain’s house, though is not likely to change anything. With 223 international appearances in all the three formats but now so low in confidence and cutting a sorry figure, the 32-year old might well have played his last game for Pakistan.

It was in 2014 when Sarfaraz cemented his Test spot and with his boisterous presence soon became, a key member of Misbah-led Pakistan team. His street-smart instinct was both refreshing and uplifting and his fighting qualities reminded one of Moin Khan, a wicket-keeper batsman of the 1990. The daring and innovative shot selection as a batsman drawing parallels between the two.. In 2016 Sarfaraz, with a 2006 u-19 World Cup win under his leadership, was initially appointed to captain the senior side in T20I and by the following year, he was seen as ready to lead Pakistan in all three formats. In hindsight, it was a serious blunder.

Sadly, very soon it was evident that the weight of expectation was having negative effect on this exciting talent’s personal performance. The runs dried up and his work behind the stumps too suffered and he was no longer a confident character that Pakistan supporters had come to admire. His challenge to bring further success, to be fair was asking too much as the two batting stalwarts -   Misbah and Younis Khan had retired together and the other two senior batsmen – Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq – failed badly to come to terms with their new roles.

In Sarfaraz’s 3 ½ year tenure, Pakistan did rise to become the top T20I side in the world by playing superb cricket and in beating India in the final of the 2017 Champions Trophy, held in England, its breath taking brilliance overcame all the challenges. Apart from that there was not much to cheer about and he hung on to the role for the 2019 World Cup, merely because of the vacuum of leadership in Pakistan cricket. Sarfaraz’s uninspiring leadership saw the national side slip to number seven in ICC Test ranking. It was not entirely his fault but his unimaginative leadership did not help the cause and even after claiming a national record of 10 catches and scoring 50, against South Africa at Johannesburg, in his last game, might never represent Pakistan in Test cricket.

To many, including former paceman Shoaib Akhtar, Sarfaraz had failed to stamp his authority or lead from the front. At times, it seemed, he had less of a say in the final selection or decision to bat or bowl first and the overwhelming presence of head coach Mickey Arthur and chief selector, Inzamam-ul-Haq, undermined his role as a captain. In this scenario he could not be seen as a strong captain and as one of only two players from the Karachi camp, besides Asad Shafiq, struggled to command wholehearted support of the entire squad. Not an unusual occurrence in Pakistan team’s dressing room.

For the past few years Pakistan have not had a luxury of a large pool of quality players and should not repeat the mistake of naming one captain for all three formats - Tests, ODIs and T20I – of international cricket. By appointing Azhar Ali for Test and Babar Azam for T20I, the Pakistan cricket team is soon leaving on a challenging short tour of Australia with two captains to shoulder the responsibility.

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