Appointing Azhar Ali as captain compounding the woes of Pakistan's sinking ship in Tests

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Pakistan’s problems are plenty and the tour of Australia has cruelly exposed just how far they have fallen behind in the Test format.

The current team is a far cry from the one which climbed to the No1 Test ranking in 2016 under the leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq, and they inevitable fell to a second-consecutive innings defeat at the hands of the hosts.

It is once again Misbah who is at the helm, albeit in the background this time, in a dual role of head coach and chief selector. The former skipper has already invited plenty of detractors and critics in his brief tenure so far with his inexperience in a coaching role being widely questioned by many.

His team’s showing in his maiden Test assignment as coach will do him no favours in that regard. Pakistan have been comprehensively outplayed with the bat, ball and in the field by Australia in a chastening tour.

Patches of brilliance from Babar Azam, an unlikely Test ton from Yasir Shah and the hype surrounding 16-year-old rookie pacer Naseem Shah will not mask what has been a shambolic display and tame surrender Down Under.

While it is true that he has taken charge of a team lacking red-ball experience, Misbah has not really helped his cause with some of his own decision-making. The most baffling of them, though, seems to be his appointment of Azhar Ali as the skipper of the Test outfit.

It is true that previous incumbent Sarfraz Ahmed’s personal form had been deteriorating at an alarming rate, and a change at the top was not uncalled for. However, handing over the reins of the team to a player whose own individual form has been on shaky grounds of late might not have been the wisest moves by Misbah.

The 34-year-old top-order batsman was once among the more consistent openers in Test cricke,t but his stock has drastically fallen over the last two years. His showing in the series against Australia has only served to highlight his rapid decline with the right-hander mustering just the 62 runs in his four innings.

At the Adelaide Oval, Azhar Ali was dismissed for nine in both innings after being caught by Steve Smith in the slip-cordon. On both occasions, the Pakistan veteran was attempting to play towards the on-side but he could only manage to get thick outside edges.

It means that he has now been dismissed for single digit scores in eight of his last 11 Test innings with a 39-run knock in Brisbane being the highest he has managed during the period. His statistics look ever worse when taking the last two years into account, with Azhar falling to scores below 15 on 16 separate occasions out of 25.

Bar for a decent series against New Zealand in the UAE last year where he registered a ton and two fifties, the Pakistan skipper has been absolutely woeful with the bat. Even with that prolific show against the Kiwis, his batting average in the last two years is still only 24.08.

A captain needs to be able to lead from the front, but more worryingly for Pakistan, Azhar’s tactics on the field have been equally abysmal. His field settings and bowling changes in the Adelaide Test left plenty to be desired as David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne drove Pakistan’s attack into the ground.

“Terrible,” was highly respected former Australia skipper Ricky Ponting’s verdict when asked by cricket.com.au to describe Azhar Ali’s tactics.

“He just looks like he’s a long way off the mark, Azhar Ali. He’s only captained 16 first-class games in his life, so he’s a young captain in charge of a young bowling team and they look like they just need a bit more experience at the helm.

“It’s obviously not the most skilled bowling attack of all time. But that’s where you need the captain to be able to help out and set certain fields for you, and tell you exactly what he wants you to do as a bowler. It doesn’t look like they’ve had that direction out on the field.”

Azhar Ali's on-field captaincy has been uninspiring as well.

Azhar Ali’s on-field captaincy has been uninspiring as well.

While the options for captaincy are not really abundant for Misbah, giving it to a fading star quite clearly on the decline is only going to be counterproductive. Azhar’s captaincy bow couldn’t have gone any worse, while his individual returns continue to plummet. Now, his tactical nous has been shown up to be ordinary as well.

Sure, he can always learn the ropes of captaincy as he gains more experience under his belt. However, at his advancing age, there is nothing Pakistan will really gain in the long-term by keeping him at the helm. Pakistan’s Test outfit looks like a sinking ship at the moment with the future looking completely grim save for the rising class of Babar Azam.

That they have a captain who is low on confidence and self-belief manning the rudders, will only hasten their path to catastrophe.

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