Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who will be Pakistan's next ODI captain?

While Misbah Ul Haq and Shahid Afridi, the two men who have retired from ODIs following the World Cup, will continue to lead the test and T20 teams respectively, the PCB is in a fix regarding who will be Pakistan's next ODI captain.

Several names have been doing the rounds and everyone from Mohammad Hafeez to Shoaib Malik, Azhar Ali, Sohaib Maqsood, Wahab Riaz, and Sarfraz Ahmed have been named to be in some sort of contention for the post.

Pakistan's next series is against Bangladesh on 15th April so there isn't much time and a decision needs to be taken in the next 2 weeks or so.

It is not an easy decision by any means. No one was really groomed under Misbah as Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez served as deputies at different times under him. Afridi is gone, while Hafeez, who missed the World Cup due to injury, may only be a short term solution.

Here's our attempt at weighing the candidates and assessing their potential to captain Pakistan's ODI team.

Shoaib Malik

It is amazing how his name never seems to leave Pakistan's cricket circles despite having done absolutely nothing of note for 5 years now. Malik's previous captaincy stint was a disaster as he alienated senior players in his team and became a yes man to the then PCB Chairman. In my view, Malik is spineless and will do no good to the team by being a part of it. I believe he should be kept away from Pakistan cricket for good.

If the selectors feel that he deserves to be brought back then maybe, just maybe, a comeback to the middle order would be acceptable. But as captain? Absolutely not.

Wahab Riaz

He is the flavour of the month in Pakistan. He is Pakistan's new superstar, Pakistan's new poster boy. After 19 years of holding on to that mantle, Shahid Afridi finally passed on the baton in his last ever ODI.

Wahab Riaz had an outstanding World Cup. He won games single handedly, scripted victories for Pakistan with the ball, and gave Australia a scare like no one has. His stocks have risen tremendously after this World Cup, but a decision to make him captain will be an emotional one.

Between his 5-for in Mohali in 2011 and this World Cup, does anyone remember where Wahab was? He barely played for Pakistan during these 4 years as he was either out of favour or injured. Even when he played he was thrashed around like a school bowler. There were stories of him being a 'sifarshi', a 'parchi'; someone no one wanted in Pakistan's team. So much so that his inclusion in Pakistan's World Cup squad was also criticized.

A few good games does not make one a captain. Pakistan may have just found their next attacking weapon with the ball; there is no need to burden him with the captaincy. Let us and the cricket world get joy from his bowling while it lasts.

Sohaib Maqsood

I was surprised to hear that he was being considered. In fact his name had come up before the World Cup as well. He doesn't even captain in domestic cricket, hence my surprise. I doubt he is being considered seriously at this point given his below par World Cup performance. He still needs to work on his batting before he can be considered captaincy material in my opinion.

Azhar Ali

Once again I am not sure why his name is doing the rounds. He doesn't even play ODI cricket for Pakistan. The World Cup showed how far behind Pakistan's batting is compared to the rest of the world. At a time when Pakistan needs to find modern aggressive ODI batsmen, they can't go calling for Azhar Ali's inclusion in ODI cricket.

He is a valuable member of the test team and maybe even a future captain there, but he has no future as an ODI batsman, let alone a captain.

This brings me to the final two candidates - Mohammad Hafeez and Sarfraz Ahmed.

Hafeez has captained Pakistan already, as a full time captain of the T20 team and a stand in for ODIs and Tests. He was Misbah's deputy for the longest time and also captains in the domestic circuit. So he's got ample captaincy experience and he will be back to play ODIs for Pakistan as it was only the injury that kept him out.

Sarfraz Ahmed has captained Pakistan at the U19 level and has a successful U19 World Cup campaign on his CV. He has had a magnificent year in international cricket across all formats and has solidified his position as Pakistan's premier wicketkeeper batsman in tests, ODIs, and T20s. But is he ready to take over the team as captain?

This is what I think should be the plan.

Misbah will lead the test team for probably another year. Pakistan's next few scheduled test series include a tour to Bangladesh in April, a tour to Sri Lanka in july, a series against England and India in the UAE between October and January, and a tour to New Zealand in February. That is how far Misbah is probably looking at and that is how long he should be at the helm of test cricket for Pakistan.

Afridi has already announced that he will captain Pakistan's T20 team till next year's World T20, which will be played in India in March next year.

What this means is that in a year's time, Pakistan will be looking for a test and T20 captain as well.

There are only two cricketers in Pakistan that play all three formats with some sort of success - Sarfraz Ahmed and Ahmed Shehzad. And one of them should be captain across all those formats. No prizes for guess who it should be.

What I would urge PCB's Chairman to do is the following:

1. Call Misbah, Afridi, Hafeez, and Sarfraz in for a meeting.
2. Tell them that he is looking to appoint Sarfraz as captain for Pakistan's test, ODI, and T20 teams.
3. Tell Hafeez that he should captain the ODI team for that 1 year with Sarfraz as his deputy.
4. Tell Misbah and Afridi that Sarfraz will be their deputy as well in Tests and T20s.
5. Tell them all to support Sarfraz and groom him under their captaincy to the best of their abilities.

What this will do is that it would give Sarfraz some more time to learn the ropes under the best captains Pakistan has had in the past 5 years without putting any undue pressure on him. It will then give Pakistan a captain who can probably serve them for the best part of a decade.

That is the best way forward in my opinion.

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