Is Sarfaraz Ahmed the captain Pakistan need or the batsman Pakistan deserve?
Cricket returned to Pakistan after a long time, and Karachi managed to get its first ODI series after a gap of almost 10 years. Now that’s a really long time for a cricket-hungry nation which lives and breathes the sport.
While the first ODI of the three-match series between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was washed out as the stadium was flooded, Pakistan were able to defeat Sri Lanka in the following two matches to clinch the series and leave a mark on the National Stadium Karachi.
Karachi-born Sarfaraz Ahmed led the Pakistani team once again during both the matches, an assignment he has taken on full-time since 2017 after Azhar Ali stepped down. Even after a poor performance in the 2019 World Cup, Ahmed has still been riding high on his 2017 Champions Trophy success - which should have become a talk of the past by now.
This was a big chance for Ahmed to leave a mark on his home city as he seemed like one of the men who were most excited about the return of cricket to Karachi. But even though the conditions were in the captain's favor, Sarfaraz continued his string of batting failures.
In the first match of the series, Ahmed managed to score only 8 off 12 balls in a game where Pakistan won easily by 67 runs thanks to Babar Azam and Usman Shinwari’s efforts.
However, it was the second match where his involvement mattered the most as Pakistan were required to chase down a target of 298. Ahmed decided to walk in at number 4 instead of his usual number 6 or 7 spot and landed Pakistan in trouble after the openers gave a great start to the innings.
After scoring a lethargic 23 off 33 balls, Ahmed played an irresponsible shot at a crucial time to drag the ball onto the stumps. If it wasn’t for Haris Sohail, Pakistan would likely have gone on to lose the match.
This was just one of the many ODI series we’ve seen where Ahmed has repeatedly failed with the bat and only relied on his wicket-keeping skills and captaincy to remain in the team.
During the World Cup Ahmed averaged a mediocre 28.6, and only managed to score one half-century. Apart from the tour of England in 2019, Ahmed's previous half-century had come against New Zealand in November 2018 - which meant he went dry for 10 matches between the two innings.
Ahmed may be the only wicket-keeper captain in Pakistan’s history to have led his team in 50 ODIs, but his batting alone has put them into trouble rather than steered them out of it.
At a time when Pakistan are finding a new generation of batsmen in the form of Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq and Haris Sohail, it’s difficult to justify Ahmed's place in the team as a batsman, let alone a captain. The only reason he’s held the spot for so long is the unwillingness of the selectors to give more wicket-keepers a chance, with Mohammad Rizwan the only candidate managing to get some matches during Ahmed's reign.
From the table above, it is evident that Rizwan has shown as much promise, if not more, as compared to Ahmed. The selectors need to get back to the drawing board and ponder whether they can crown another player as captain, since the World Cup is done and dusted and the rebuilding phase will give them a chance to experiment.
While Ahmed has been a very successful captain in T20Is and also in ODIs, it’s extremely difficult to justify his spot in the team as a batsman.
Since Pakistan have already changed their entire support staff set-up and made Misbah-ul-Haq the Coach and the Chief Selector of the National Team, it seems like the right time to give Ahmed a wake-up call and ask him to perform or step back and let the team grow without him.
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