Should Sarfraz Ahmed be axed as captain of Pakistan?
The recently-concluded Asia Cup 2018 gave us an opportunity to assess how Pakistan's preparation for the World Cup is coming along. It was just about a year ago, when Pakistan surprisingly won the Champions Trophy, that fans and others were expressing admiration over how the Pakistan team was gelling before the World Cup.
The reality is that Pakistan's performance leading up to the Champions Trophy had also been shaky and unconvincing. In fact, not even the most ardent fans of the team had predicted that Pakistan would reach the Champions Trophy final. Their performances throughout the tournament also did not suggest that the team could be the potential champions of the tournament. However, somehow Pakistan won and with that win, all the glaring weaknesses and problems of the team were forgotten overnight.
Since the Champions Trophy win, though, Pakistan's performances have once again become a matter of concern. They have convincingly won against much weaker opposition and have failed spectacularly against the top teams. Questions about team selection, strategy, on-field tactics, and the performance of Sarfraz both as captain and batsman have re-emerged.
The debacle in the Asia Cup 2018 has alarmed even the critics. The extent to which Pakistan was manhandled in home-conditions by the other Asian teams has necessitated a major overhaul to the team's preparation for next year's World Cup.
To shake up the team and get it back on track, it seems, the management would need to make immediate major changes by either firing Mickey Arthur, the head coach, and/or replacing Sarfraz Ahmed as captain. Let's examine both these options and determine which option is the most feasible one, given that the World Cup is less than a year away.
Firing Mickey Arthur
The main objective of hiring Mickey Arthur back in 2016 was to bring stability to the team's performance. Arthur's reputation as a disciplinarian was well known to the PCB and, in fact, it was this attribute of his that made him an attractive candidate for head coach of Pakistan. Arthur's slash-and-burn methods of indiscriminately dropping established players from the team on account of their fitness woes or work ethics were supported by the team management.
The team's fitness improved and fielding standards markedly showed positive results. However, Arthur's inability to judge talent coming in the pipeline was a major shortfall in his coaching methodology. He rarely spent time observing domestic matches and familiarizing himself with the players that could potentially be part of the national side. As a result, he made some strange decisions even when playing in home-conditions in the UAE. Further, his acrimonious relationship with some of the players in the team has now affected the confidence of the team.
Replacing Sarfraz Ahmed as Captain
Sarfraz started off as a promising prospect as captain of Pakistan. The team's victory in the Champions Trophy under his captaincy boosted his confidence. However, Sarfraz's demeanor demonstrates a certain immaturity that is usually associated with a rookie captain. He still struggles to make quick decisions on his feet, is unable to keep his emotions in check, makes erratic decisions, shows an incapacity to stand up for his players in selection matters, and has lost the confidence of his teammates.
His struggles as captain have also adversely affected his batting. The Asia Cup demonstrated, in a nutshell, the shortcomings of Sarfraz Ahmed as captain. With about 8 months to go for the World Cup, there is still plenty of time to replace him with someone that can instill confidence in this team.
Recent moves by the management, such as including another wicket keeper in the team seem indicative of the fact that the selectors are worried about Sarfraz's place in the squad. The upcoming tour to South Africa is only expected to prolong Sarfraz's misery. To that end, he is likely to be replaced as captain of Pakistan and that move may be more imminent than the PCB is letting on.