The Road to 2023 World Cup and Pakistan’s New Test captain

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Pakistan Cricket Team management does not do very well when it comes to long term planning. We have many examples from the past, when we had plans for next 2-3 years but they failed miserably. Our management on numerous occasions has failed to realise that Test, ODI and T20 are three different formats when appointing a captain.

We have an example of 2015 World Cup, after which Azhar Ali was appointed as captain of ODI team, keeping in mind that Misbah-Ul-Haq and Younis Khan were going to quit Test cricket soon and Azhar Ali was expected to be the next Test captain at that time. Although Azhar Ali was not part of the ODI team, but still management thought he was the right choice.

As a result, Pakistani team went through a horrible period in limited over Cricket and were whitewashed by Bangladesh, conceded 444 runs against England, lost 2-0 to New Zealand and went down 4-1 against Australia. From 2010 to 2015, the Green shirts were believed to be favourites even after scoring 225-250 runs. But during those 2 years, Pakistani team conceded 300-350 many times. Pakistan have conceded more than 325 runs 30 times in almost 50 years of ODI Cricket. And during those 2 years, Pakistan conceded that figure 7 times.

Azhar Ali was removed from captaincy after the Australian series. We lost someone who could have been a good test captain at that time, but his confidence was also shaken. Azhar was appointed test captain later in 2019 when Sarfaraz Ahmed was removed, but questions was asked once again. Many people asked how he could turn out to be a successful test captain after failing as ODI captain. There was added pressure on Azhar Ali which resulted in his personal bad form. But no one realized that mistake was first made in the past in 2015.

Another mistake that team management had done was making Sarfaraz Ahmed captain of all 3 formats in 2017, after Misbah hung up his boots and Azhar Ali was sacked. Azhar Ali could have been the right choice as test captain in 2017, had he not gone through those two years of ODI captaincy, but Sarfaraz Ahmed was given burden of all 3 formats.

The added responsibility was once again meant the skipper had to go through bad form personally. Sarfaraz Ahmed was whitewashed by Sri Lanka in UAE, which was home series. That was followed by whitewash against South Africa and another loss against New Zealand in UAE.

Sarfaraz Ahmed had a successful run as T20 captain, winning 11 consecutive series, but he did not do much with the bat in those performances. 2019 World Cup came, where many questions were raised about Sarfaraz coming down in the batting order and not taking much responsibility.

The skipper decided to promote himself in the next series against Sri Lanka, where all 3 matches were played in Lahore. Failing in all 3 matches resulted in him getting sacked as captain from all 3 formats again. The terrible decision of removing the captain from all the formats was seen again.

Babar Azam was given the T20 captaincy at first and it was followed in him getting ODI captaincy as well. Although he could not get many opportunities to lead the team due to Coronavirus pandemic, but still the burden of two formats was on his shoulders. But the worst part is about to come, as according to sources, Babar will be given test captaincy as well.

Azhar Ali may not be doing very well as a captain for now and his personal form is not up to the mark. But still the management must keep in mind that they cannot ruin the career of Pakistan’s best batsman by giving him too much responsibility.  We have an example of Australia, who gave captaincy to Tim Paine after Steven Smith and David Warner were banned. Tim Paine was almost a scapegoat in that situation, although he did well and remained skipper even after Smith and Warner came back. Although Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon were most experienced than Paine, but Australian board did not want to shake their confidence by giving them captaincy in that difficult period.

Pakistan Cricket Team management will also have to set the priorities. They must think if giving captaincy to Babar Azam is worth it or not. The biggest challenge for new test captain will be getting his sight on World Test Championship. There are some difficult test series in New Zealand (away) and South Africa (at home) to follow. The management must think if Babar Azam would be able to take so much pressure.

There is already T20 World Cup coming next year, which could be followed by the postponed World T20 in 2022. World Cup Super League for 50 over format is also going on and an eye must be kept in 2023 World Cup. No country would be thinking about giving all 3 captaincies to one player in this situation. Especially when whole team is dependent on individual performance of that player.

Australia and India are already looking to qualify for the final of World Test Championship, way ahead of Pakistan in the points table. After 4 series, India is on 360 points whereas Australia have 296 points. Pakistan have only 166 points with a difficult away series against New Zealand to follow. So they must realize the final spot of World Test Championship is out of reach for now.

A scapegoat policy may not be wrong in this situation. It would be better to think about building the test team for next Test Championship. Babar should be allowed to focus on T20 World Cup 2021, 2022 and ODI World Cup 2023. That is already too much, but added pressure and responsibility of Test captaincy would be a blunder in this situation.

Shan Masood or Muhammad Rizwan are two other names among the contenders of Test captaincy. Shan Masood is the only one among them who is playing only one format for now. So he maybe the right choice, considering the less load on him. He has the experience of leading teams in domestic matches before and even if he fails as a batsman and captain, there is not much to lose, considering his age. He is 30 plus and may not have more than 2-3 years left. The team is not dependent on him so there might not be much pressure of individual performance. And there will be an option of making a new Test captain for the next World Test Championship.

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