It’s the talk of the town these days; pundits busy in deliberations over whether or not the reins of the Pakistan ODI cricket team be handed over to someone else. The ones who believe that he must be replaced by someone else accuse him of being defensive and lacking the spirit of the game; and the ones who support him are of the view that he, being a nascent captain, must be given some more time to get settled. Despite the fact that poor captaincy is one of the core reasons of Pakistan’s loss against the Kiwis and the English recently, Azhar must not be removed from the captaincy due to a number of reasons.
Firstly, if we analyze the recent loss against the English in the ODI campaign match-wise, we do realize that it wasn’t the captaincy alone which let the team down, but a combination of factors. Yes, poor captaincy is a reason; but isn’t the sole one.
Out of the 4 ODIs Pakistan lost, the boys couldn’t put up decent score on the board in 3 of them. In the 1st ODI, the green shirts were restricted to a meagre 260, which isn’t enough at all given the pace of the modern game. Facts do tell us that Sharjeel used the DRS poorly in the first ODI, which also cost Babar Azam as well. Wickets fell at regular intervals – no power hitting at the bottom – and the boys were reduced to a below par total. Adding to the misery was the catch put down by Sarfraz at a very crucial moment and rest is history.
In the 2nd ODI, the same happened but with a different script. Again a respectable but below par score and then the bowlers not picking up wickets at the right time – no such strike bowler who could pick up wickets at regular intervals – and the fielders not showing agility – another poor loss.
The 3rd ODI is an exception to the thesis I am carrying. The English were utterly decimating in the third game – no words for that – extremely poor bowling – underrated field positioning – ruthless fielding – Hales, Root, Butler rocking – English defeating the green shirts by a massive margin – not to forget the gargantuan 444 they had put on the board. It all followed by another poor batting display by the men in green – another hefty loss.
The 4th ODI was just a recap of the ODI 1 and 2. Pakistan playing 154 dot balls – oh My Lord! – utterly too much. Such a number of dot balls clearly signifies that the squad desperately lacked in power hitters. However, the bowling display was a bit different this time with Muhammad Irfan being a part of the squad – though he couldn’t complete his quota due to a mysterious calf cramp. The men in green got wickets at the regular intervals and were at the verge of their first ODI victory against the English, but couldn’t just execute it efficaciously, primarily because Muhammad Irfan couldn’t bowl any legal delivery in excess of his 5 overs of the first spell, and Azhar Ali had to bowl in the last 5 overs of the innings – just imagine the misery. Had Moin Ali not finished the game, we would have witnessed Muhammad Rizwan or Babar Azam doing the job of making the white ball sail to the batsman in the successive overs – how miserable Irfan’s absence proved for the men in green can be gauged from this very fact.
The 5th ODI was probably the only thing Azhar would be happy at. Some good bowling by Aamir and Hassan in the death overs, followed by a wonderful batting display by Sarfraz Ahmad, who had been the star for the Pakistanis on the tour, and the veteran Shoaib Malik. With Imad Wasim (unbeaten throughout the series) and Muhammad Rizwan finishing off the game in style with their elegant stroke play, Pakistan were able to clinch their consolation victory against the English, hindering them to accomplish their debut ODI clean sweep.
So, this makes me believe that though poor captaincy and operational failures was one of the reasons that Pak lost the script altogether in the ODI series, the real reason is that the captain didn’t have an empowered squad – neither there were power hitters up the order like Shehzad – nor in the middle order like Umar – most importantly, not even in the middle order like Razzaq, Afridi – no strike bowlers like Ajmal, Irfan, and Junaid. The batsmen didn’t pace up – the bowlers didn’t pick wickets – and the fielders were not agile. This implies that Azhar must be provided with an empowered squad with good hitters throughout the batting line who could decimate the opposition’s bowling at important junctures of the innings – and also with good strike bowlers who could disturb the furniture at crucial moments. The return of Umar Akmal, given that he mends his attitude, can be a good omen for the team, as he has all the guts to make the ball travel some distance. Decent bowlers, given they are fully fit, like Irfan, Sohail Khan and Junaid must also be made a part of the squad.
Secondly, there is no substitute for Azhar available at the moment. Neither does it make sense to give such an imperative responsibility to someone like Malik or Hafeez, as they have played the bulk of their careers, nor does it make sense to assign the task to the exuberant Sarfraz. One may argue that the wicket keeper must be given the task to lead the team in 50-over contests as well, given the marvellous captaincy display we witnessed in the sole T20I, but the fact remains intact that if his shoulders are burdened with such a task, it may affect his good batting form, which is something Pakistan can’t afford, as he happens to be the axis of the middle order at the moment. In addition to that, he has only captained for the T20I side for once till date, so he must be given some more time to spend with the boys before he could be given the job to lead the team in the 50-over games too. Till then, let him assign the role as and when Azhar is not available so that he is able to experience the learning curve at the ODI level.
Despite the fact that Azhar Ali, as a captain, is responsible for the loss against the English and he must be held accountable for his performance, removing him from the leadership may thrust the already crippled ODI side to a stalemate, which, obviously, isn’t desired at all. So, it will be thoroughly sagacious to let him be at the toss from the Pakistani side until the WI series.
The author is an experienced writer, having a special knack to analyze the contemporary cricket affairs.