Sarfaraz to remain Pakistan limited-overs captain under new Misbah-ul-Haq regime
Misbah-ul-Haq’s coaching tenure has begun with the reappointment of limited overs captain Sarfaraz Ahmed. Sarfaraz was captain of Pakistan’s ODI team at the recent World Cup, however the team failed to advance past the quarter-finals stage and he had not been in sparkling form himself, managing an average of just 32 and only four fifties in his past 29 innings. Add to that the fact that he had been appointed only a series-by-series basis, and there was a lot of speculation that he would lose his position heading into the upcoming series against Sri Lanka.
However, Misbah and the Pakistan Cricket Board instead threw their full support behind the 32-year-old, with Misbah calling him ‘one of the most talented and exceptionally gifted Pakistan cricketers and thoroughly deserving of this assignment. Consistency backed up by good performance has been my yardstick for recommending Sarfaraz as captain.’ Misbah also made reference to his own ability to maximise the talents of Sarfaraz as a leader, stating that, ‘I think I am better placed to get the best out of Sarfaraz as I know him better than most of the cricketers as he has played most of his cricket under my captaincy’.
Sarfaraz has been an important part of cricket in Pakistan in all forms of the game for a long time, but it’s in the shorter formats where his eye-catching and aggressive batting style has always been best suited. He has represented his nation on 114 occasions in the 50-over game, averaging 34.4 at a strike rate of 88.12, scoring 11 50’s and two centuries, and taking 112 catches and 24 stumpings as wicket-keeper. In the shortest form of the game, he has played 55 matches, averaging 28.65 at a strike rate of 128.67, taking 34 catches and accumulating ten stumpings.
Sarfaraz first took on a captaincy role in April of 2016, taking over from Shahid Afridi as T20I captain after a disappointing run of results for the side. The change kick-started a strong run and has seen Pakistan become one of the best sides in the world at the shortest form of the game over the past three years.
Less than a year after he took on this role, ODI captain Azhar Ali resigned and Sarfaraz was chosen as his replacement. As it did in T20’s, this move coincided with a great run of results – after defeating the West Indies 2-1 in his first series as ODI captain, Sarfaraz led his team to victory at the ICC Champions Trophy, where he was also named captain and wicket-keeper of the Team of the Tournament. In September of the same year, he was also named Test captain, and he has retained these three roles since.
Though there was some speculation about his future in the role given the fact that he wasn’t assured of any long-term security in the role, and though Pakistan failed to advance past the semi-finals at the World Cup, the team did win four games in a row to conclude that tournament and missed out on a spot in the final four on net run rate alone. This performance, though not resulting in any tangible success, was seemingly enough for the PCB to believe in him as the man for the job.
Following the reappointment, Sarfaraz stated, ‘I am aware we have not done justice to our potential in ODIs…I remain committed to stepping up to the challenge with my performances and captaincy.’ He went on to say: ‘I assure all our fans we will not leave any stone unturned in our preparations for the forthcoming assignments and will do our best to translate these preparations into solid performances.’
While the PCB opted to keep their faith in Sarfaraz, they did make changes to the men who he will work alongside, with 24-year-old batsman Babar Azam named vice-captain in the upcoming ODI and T20I series’ against Sri Lanka. In contrast to the reappointment of Sarfaraz as captain, this move is a nod to the future, with the talented Babar expected to be a major part of the team for many years to come and a likely candidate for captaincy later on in his career.
Babar already has experience in leadership roles, having captained Pakistan seven years ago at the Under-19 World Cup. Since then, he has developed into one of the best batsmen in the world, and is now ranked in the top three batsmen in world cricket in both ODI’s and T20I’s, and 16thin Test cricket.
And indeed, it’s not hard to see why he is so highly rated in the shorter formats of the game – his numbers, at just 24 years of age, are quite incredible. He has already played 72 matches in ODI cricket and amassed 3213 runs in them, and boasts an extremely impressive average of 53.55 and strike rate of 86.23 in that format of the game. He has also demonstrated a propensity to capitalise on positive starts, scoring ten centuries and 15 half-centuries – converting 40% of half-centuries into centuries in the 50-over format of the game is a huge number.
And in T20I’s, where he is ranked the number one batsman in the world, it’s even more impressive. In 30 matches he has scored 1247 runs at an average of 54.21 and a strike rate of 128.95, extraordinary numbers and testament to the undeniable talent of the young batsman.
With these numbers and experience leading a team at a young age, it was inevitable that Babar would eventually step into a leadership role with the national side. Like with Sarfaraz, it hasn’t been made clear how long he will likely remain in the position, however at just 24 years of age and with the bulk of his career to come, it seems probable that he will stay there until he is ready to step into the role of captain.
Misbah-ul-Haq appears willing to throw his full support behind Sarfaraz, a man with whom he has had plenty to do since Sarfaraz first came onto the scene, so it appears the captain has some breathing space. But with no long-term assurances given, if the team underperforms it will be easy for the powers that be to remove him from the position, and with a talented young star waiting in the wings he will have an automatic replacement. Presumably, however, there is a succession plan in place which will see Babar learn the ropes under his more experienced leader.
Pakistan’s upcoming fixtures will see them play three ODI’s and three T20I’s against Sri Lanka in Pakistan, before they head to Australia for what should be an entertaining three game T20I series against Australia in November. Presumably, given he was still only given assurances on a series-by-series basis, Pakistan will need to perform to a reasonable level in these series in order for Sarfaraz to maintain his position. They will be expected to win at home against Sri Lanka, while the series in Australia will be a sterner test – though they are more highly ranked than the Australians in the shortest format of the game.