Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Was it Right to Sack Sarfaraz Ahmed?

Sarfaraz Ahmed is gone.

His time as captain of Pakistan's national team across all three formats is over and for now his time as a player is over too!

While I was still trying to get my head around this decision, Pakistan's new and all powerful Chief Selector announced the Test and T20 teams for the tour to Australia, which left me even more perplexed.

My head is in a cross wire over all these changes and I am still trying to make sense of them.


CAPTAINCY CONFUSION

When the announcement came, the headline read "Sarfaraz Ahmed removed as Pakistan Captain from all 3 formats".

Azhar Ali was announced Test Captain, Babar Azam was announced T20 Captain, and a decision on the ODI captain was deferred till July 2020, which is when Pakistan plays its next ODI.

Within minutes, however, the article was updated:

So which one is it?

Has Sarfaraz been retained as ODI captain or has he been removed?

I still don't know.


WAS IT RIGHT TO REMOVE SARAFRAZ?

There is no easy answer.

Pakistan won the Champions Trophy under him two years ago.

They failed to qualify for the World Cup semifinals but only because of Net Run Rate. They ended the World Cup with 4 straight wins.

Pakistan have won their last 6 ODIs under Sarfraz.

Pakistan have been the number 1 ranked T20 team for two years under Sarfaraz. No Pakistan captain had a better record in T20s than him.

Considering all this, maybe he should have been retained.

But then you think about all those losses in ODIs against the top 8 teams. Besides the wins in CT2017, Pakistan barely registered any victory against the top 8 ODI teams under Sarfaraz.

You think about losing a first ever test series in the UAE, which had become Pakistan's fortress under Misbah Ul Haq.

You think about the clean sweep in the T20 series against a second string, albeit talented, Sri Lanka.

But even then was the captaincy strip warranted?

A closer look at Sarfaraz's captaincy record reveals this:

TESTS
13 matches | 4 wins | 8 losses | 1 draw
568 runs at 25.81 with 5 fifties

He looked out of depth as test captain.

His batting suffered.

While those numbers are not bad, they are not good enough for someone who wanted to bat in the top 6. For a number 7 WK they are also strictly okay. He was far better before he took on the captaincy and was averaging in the 40s.

ODIS
50 matches | 28 wins | 20 losses | 2 NR
804 runs at 32.2 and SR of 87.3 with 5 fifties

A W:L ratio of 1.4 is not bad.

However, a closer look at the wins shows that 17 out of 28 came against the top 8 ODI sides, out of which 8 wins were against Sri Lanka.

Out of the remaining 9 wins, 3 came on the trot leading to the Champions Trophy win.

Pakistan never looked like a world beating ODI team under Sarfaraz, except for that 1 week in 2017, however it wasn't all that bad either.

His own form too was alright. An average of 32 for a wicket keeper is fine in my opinion. He probably did not fit in the top 5 but at 6 or 7 he was fine.

He perhaps could have continued as ODI captain. Maybe he will. Who knows.

T20Is
37 matches | 29 Wins | 8 losses
521 runs at 27.4 and SR of 130.6

Someone who achieved these numbers did not deserve to be sacked.

Under Sarfraz, Pakistan won 11 consecutive T20 series, beating all teams in all sorts of conditions. They beat England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, West Indies, Sri Lanka, and even a World XI.

Pakistan rose to the top of the International T20 Rankings and remained the number 1 T20 team for two years.

They still are the number 1 T20 team, despite the 3-0 loss to Sri Lanka.

Pakistan have won only 1 out of their last 6 T20 internationals, however after a string of wins across 11 successful series, the selectors should have been a bit more considerate.

While remaining as ODI captain is debatable, Sarfaraz surely did not deserve to be sacked as a T20 captain. Even his batting record was fine in T20s.

Sarfaraz was one of the most successful captains in the history of T20 cricket. The least the PCB could have done was give him a chance to lead the team in a World T20.



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In my view, it was right to remove Sarfaraz as test captain and replace him with Azhar Ali. In fact, Azhar Ali should have always been test captain. It is quite unfortunate that Azhar was made ODI captain and did not get the test captaincy, after Misbah's retirement, because of his failure as an ODI captain.

Removing Sarfaraz as T20 captain is completely unjust. Sure Pakistan lost 3-0 to Sri Lanka but take a look at the 3 years before that. Does that count for nothing?

I wish Babar Azam all the success in the world - as a batsman and as Pakistan's T20 captain. But his time could have come later. Pakistan need his batting right now more than his captaincy.

Sarfaraz should have been the one to lead Pakistan in next year's World T20.

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