After a disastrous ODI series, Pakistan finally turned the tables against New Zealand in the shorter version of the game. The men in green claimed the T20 series, ascending to the top of the ICC T20I rankings in the process. The victory is another achievement in Sarfraz Ahmed’s short captaincy stint. Despite the positive end though, a major talking point of the tour was Sarfraz Ahmed’s captaincy and his performance as a batsman. The 5-0 defeat in the ODI’s raised a lot of questions about Sarfraz Ahmed’s control over the team. People have already started to wonder if Sarfraz’s captaincy is falling apart.
Sarfraz Ahmed had become a superstar long before he took over the captaincy job in 2016. The wicketkeeper-batsman had made a name for himself because of his aggressive batting style and gritty attitude. When he was appointed as a captain, many people felt that Sarfraz’s aggressive approach was exactly what the team needed. The results supported this viewpoint as Pakistan began to flourish under the new captain. Sarfraz led the team to a series win against West Indies before helping Pakistan claim the Champions trophy.
Problems with captaincy
The team continued its winning streak against Sri Lanka; however, the problems in Sarfraz’s captaincy had already started to appear. This was clearly evident during the test matches where Sarfraz along with the management opted to play one spinner in UAE conditions. The problem exacerbated during the ODI series against New Zealand. Sarfraz’s tactical decision making left a lot to be desired. After winning the toss in the first ODI, Sarfraz opted to bowl first on a pitch which offered no assistance to the fast bowlers. Similarly, despite the fact that Shoaib Malik was failing to score runs, Sarfraz never changed his batting position. He preferred to bat on the 7th position throughout the series.
Many people have argued that Sarfraz’s game suits the 7th position but the records tell a completely different story. The Pakistani captain supports an average of 26.54 in 11 innings on the 7th position with a highest score of 64. In contrast, Sarfraz supports an astonishing average of 60.14 in 10 innings on the 5th position, with a highest score of 105 against England at Lords. The change in the batting order made a big difference during the T20 series where Sarfraz finally took the responsibility and came up in the order. Had Sarfraz taken the initiative earlier, Pakistan might have produced a better batting performance during the ODI series.
The selection of the playing eleven was also questionable. While the captain alone doesn’t select the players, Sarfraz had no plan B after the team failed in the first few games. Add to the fact that the media was buzzing with rumors about how Mickey Arthur was the main decision maker, further shows how Sarfraz has been unable to take charge of the team.
If Sarfraz off the field decision making was poor then his on-field antics were disappointing. Instead of directing his aggression towards the opposition players, Sarfraz was constantly in the ears of the bowlers. His anger towards the bowlers not only discouraged them but also made the captain look like a taskmaster. On a number of occasions during the series, the Pakistani captain was under criticism because of his constant instructions to the bowlers behind the stumps.
The issues eventually led to the controversy with Hassan Ali. During the second T20, Sarfraz Ahmed was shouting instructions to Hassan Ali, who just kept walking towards his run-up completely ignoring the captain. On the very next ball, Hassan picked up the wicket of Wheeler and stared down the captain before moving to his bowling position. The entire incident made the captain look bad. Hassan Ali’s attitude was in no way justified, however, Sarfraz’s aggression played a major role in creating the dissent.
The same old story
If Sarfraz continues his approach, eventually the players will stop respecting him. As past events indicate; anything can happen in Pakistan cricket. Considering Sarfraz’s situation, one is forced to draw parallels with the former Pakistan captain Younis Khan. Like Sarfraz, Younis also came up the ranks because of his hard work and fighting attitude. Like Sarfraz, Younis also took Pakistan to championship glory in the 2009 T20 world cup. Yet, after all these achievements, Younis lost control of his own team and had to quit as captain. Sarfraz should not suffer the same fate. What Happened to Younis Khan was completely unfair.
Other captains of Pakistan have also faced similar problems in the past. Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis also had to deal with conflicts with the players. The story of revolt in the dressing room is nothing new for Pakistan cricket.
So far, Sarfraz Ahmed has led the team superbly but only time will tell whether he will able to maintain his authority in the dressing room. For now, it is necessary for Sarfraz to take the command of the team from the coaches. In order to do that he needs to show his dominance off the field. If Sarfraz doesn’t make the necessary changes to his captaincy, he will join the long list of Pakistani captains who have fallen prey to dressing room politics.