Cricket the only game left in the reckoning in Pakistan has just concluded a home series against Sri Lanka in the Gulf receiving a welcome shot in the arm with a T20 game in Pakistan courtesy the sportsmanship and courage displayed by the Sri Lankan Government, its Cricket Board and more importantly its players. The message that through collective resolve the game was winning and terror defeated came out loud and clear for which the main credit must go to the visitors.
While the newly capped skipper Sarfraz could enjoy the recent white wash in the one-dayers and the T20 series, these by no means are laurels he can rest on, as these successes were against second string Sri Lankans against whom his side was whitewashed in the Tests which were the real test which requires serious introspection by all concerned. But such is the bankruptcy and myopic vision of the managers and selectors of the game that Sarfraz has been burdened with the Captaincy of all three formats of the game, each of which demanded a different attitude, strategy and game plan. Sarfraz is no wizard to be able to wear different caps and switch gears instantly within the same series with a different set of players. If that were so easy, all other nations were not mad to have assigned different players to the three jobs, but more specifically for the Tests.
Test cricket is temperamentally not Sarfraz’s cup of tea, and he clearly looked out of sorts in the two games which with a little planning could have been won against this lowly placed team with no Malinganor all-rounder Captain Angelo Mathews in the side. Sarfraz’s predicament over these defeats was reflected in his own performance not only with the bat in all formats but also behind the stumps. The pressure of the Test losses was writ large on his face besides his increasing tantrums and frustrations even during the one-dayers and the T20s with virtually every delivery. Anyone in Sarfraz’s place, rather than getting carried away by the voluminous assignment, should have excused himself from skippering the Tests which were a different ball-game requiring a game plan for all fifteen sessions spread over five days. Clearly too much has been placed on his plate to deliver rather than let him concentrate on the shorter versions for which he is proactive and eminently suited as skipper.
Fitness is another problem which exposed over-used bowlers like Hassan Ali and Mohammed Amir who were timely rested from test cricket. It is also common sense even to a person like this scribe who at best is an ardent game watcher, that not replacing non-performing openers particularly Shan Masood who looked at sea, and not fielding another spinner to pair with Yasir Shah on surfaces in the Gulf which were known to take turn on the last two days, leaving poor Yasir to toil on his own for almost a hundred odd Overs without rest or support from the other end was criminal to say the least; the worst being that the appalling mistake was repeated in the second Test. One neither found the heavily paid Coach Micky Arther nor the skipper Sarfraz making any contribution to alter course and prove that someone was on the steering.
As a futuristic matter of practicable fact, rather than continue standing on ceremony and suggesting that the current skipper would learn with time as if the country’s future could be left to training on the job, the Management should take corrective measures forthwith. Plain and simple Azhar Ali must be assigned the Test Captaincy, and Sarfraz relieved from the Test format altogether even behind the stumps replacing him with some talented wicketkeeper batsman like Rizwan, Kamran or Adnan Akmal who should be kept current and not wasted Just as the tried, tested and consistently performing but luckless Fawad Alam in the middle order. The Management persisting with the continually failing Asad Shafiq who could not stem the rot in three of his four innings even against this ordinary Lankan attack is inexplicable; his rare century score not mattering in the end.
Pakistan’s cricketing management also marvels at ruining the careers of cricketers by premature or wrong assignments and then de-seating them as done in the cases of Shoaib Malik, Hafeez and more recently Azhar Ali who were made skippers and abandoned. Starting in the reverse order, Azhar in the first place was not temperamentally a one-day player but was made the skipper whereas having deputized Misbah in the Tests for a good period of time and with batting skills suited to Test cricket as well as ability to turn his arm when required, he was and still is the most natural choice to Captain the Test side.
Hafeez was similarly made the skipper after Shoaib Malik both of whom were in crying form as all-rounders at the time, but were abandoned one after the other; one considered temperamentally inadequate and the other allegedly indulging in groupings in the squad. But no one bothered to tailor or counsel them nor had the capacity to imagine the pain each of them must have gone through. That both of them are still serving immaculately and are currently pillars of strength for the newly rebuilding side, but how they have put their tormented past behind them despite media campaigns against them, is something only they could do; hats off to Shoaib and Hafeez.
Pakistan has never lacked talent in the game of cricket which is an obsession with the country, but since some nobodies are clinging onto its Management jobs like parasites, merit has always remained the casualty with many potential young aspirants lost while others like Imran Tahir found respite and recognition only in migrating to South Africa. The Cricket Board needs to introspect and take lead from maniacs like Fawad the moving spirit behind Lahore Gladiators who is creating a stir with his initiatives in harnessing talent.
—The writer is a media professional, member of Pioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.