After a difficult tour of South Africa where Pakistan lost the Test, ODI and T20 series, coach Mickey Arthur said he was disappointed his team didn’t win the white-ball series as they were as good as the hosts.
However, the coach was glad that speculation surrounding the leadership role of suspended and under-pressure captain Sarfraz Ahmed has ended after the Pakistan board named the keeper batsman as leader at the 2019 World Cup.
“The insecurities around Safi (captain Sarfraz Ahmed) has been put to bed now. And we’ve got clarity with that. I was part of that conversation with the chairman as well. He consulted me, as he did Inzamam (Ul Haq, chief selector) and a couple of others . We have made that decision because we are very comfortable with Sarfraz leading this team forward. So there is clarity, there is no more speculation. We know who is going to lead the team,” Arthur said.
Pakistan have more questions than answers in a World Cup year, and that is never a good position to be in. Having lost all three series in South Africa by a handsome margin, to go with a ‘home’ Test series defeat in UAE to New Zealand and a disastrous Asia Cup campaign, everything from Pakistan’s selection to leadership has been put under the microscope. And rightly so.
But even when things look bleak, there is always time to make the right call and take the first step towards getting back on track. Pakistan’s decision to end all speculation and name Sarfraz Ahmed as captain for the 2019 World Cup is the right one, given the circumstances.
It is no secret that wicketkeeper batsman Sarfraz has lost supporters in Pakistan following successive leadership setbacks on the field, poor returns with the bat and the appalling racist taunt directed at South African all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo.
That last incident earned him a four-match suspension from the ICC. Given the negativity surrounding Sarfraz’s batting and leadership, it cast a particularly long shadow over his long-term prospects in the captain’s chair.
But this is a World Cup year. The showpiece event in England is less than four months away and there simply is no time for any team – apart from the hapless Sri Lankans – to even consider change in leadership or direction at this point of time.
Which is why when news came of a Pakistan board representative suggesting that the team’s captain for the next set of assignments will be decided after the upcoming Pakistan Super League, it created an unnecessary controversy.
Sarfraz is the man who has led Pakistan in all formats and he didn’t even rest while playing in Zimbabwe last year. Just because results have gone against Pakistan, it does not make sense to tinker with the leadership group at this point. Sarfraz may or may not succeed as captain at the World Cup but a new leader in a diffident dressing room will certainly fail.
Congratulations Sarfaraz on getting selected as Captain for the World Cup 2019..It is a great honour and a massive responsibility..You have what it takes to bring the Trophy home #AllTheBest @SarfarazA_54 @TheRealPCB— Waqar Younis (@waqyounis99) February 6, 2019
At any other time, the Pakistan board would have been justified in considering splitting the white and red ball leadership and even having three different captains. But by announcing Sarfraz as captain for the 2019 World Cup, they have made a timely and wise decision.
Giving the dressing room a clear message is an important and sometimes undervalued aspect of the game. There can be any number of problems plaguing a side but to put question marks over leadership is guaranteed to break a team that has been losing in all formats home and away.
Critics can question selections, series preparations and even workload management of players like Mohammad Amir by the Pakistan staff. But they must also give credit to the board for ensuring at least one loose end was tied up in time.
The men in green can now concentrate on getting their act together as they have much more serious issues to tackle ahead of the World Cup.
Pakistan will play 10 ODIs before the World Cup – five against Australia in the UAE in March and five against England. At least now, they can go in with one major distraction out of the way and focus their energies on getting their players firing again.
Sarfraz has taken Pakistan to the top of he T20 rankings and also captained Pakistan to a historic victory in the Champions Trophy in England in 2017 when Pakistan was ranked at No8 in the eight-team event.
Last month, the ICC suspended Sarfraz for four matches under its anti-racism code for an on-field taunt aimed at South Africa all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo.
He made a public apology and also apologised in person to Phehlukwayo ahead of the third ODI last week, but the ICC still found him guilty and banned him for the last two one-day games and the first two T20’s.
During the Durban ODI, Sarfraz said: “Black guy…. Where is your mother? What prayer has she said for you today?”