Following a sensational Champions Trophy campaign in which they emerged unlikely winners, Pakistan appointed Sarfraz Ahmed, the man who led them to the title, as their Test skipper. The appointment effectively puts him in charge of the Pakistan side across all three formats.
He had acquired the T20 leadership mantle from Shahid Afridi after the 2016 World T20 while Azhar Ali’s resignation paved way for his elevation to ODI captaincy. A remarkable Champions Trophy followed in which a no.8 ranked Pakistan upstaged quite a few big nations enroute their march to the finals, where they usurped India in thumping fashion. Sarfraz’s leadership during the Champions Trophy earned rare plaudits and with Misbah-ul-Haq having retired, the Test captaincy was his to take.
At a reception arranged in the Prime Minister’s residence to celebrate Pakistan’s Champions Trophy triumph, Pakistan Cricket Board Chairman, Shaharyar Khan announced the new Test captain.
There was little surprise that the dynamic wicket-keeper was given the leadership role. Sarfraz had after all led the under-19 team to a World Cup win in 2006. He had then shown great leadership qualities for Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League. The Champions Trophy victory was just an added feather in Sarfraz’s cap, even without which the Test captaincy might have come his way.
But there is a difference between inheriting and acquiring. Languishing at the bottom half of the table before the tournament, critics and fans alike gave little chance for Pakistan to qualify to the semi-finals, let alone win the cup. With Misbah having retired, Sarfraz would have eventually taken over anyway. But possibly after the loss to India in the opener, the Pakistani ODI skipper decided to acquire the Test captaincy rather than inherit it. He seemed like a man on a mission as he manned his troops like a warrior in command of his army.
Pakistan brushed aside South Africa with a performance so unlike Pakistan and Sarfraz was at the helm of it all, using his spinners to choke the life out of the Proteas. When Sri Lanka threatened to haunt them with their familiar failings, Sarfraz stood up and played a captain’s innings to lead his side to the semi-finals. When faced with a juggernaut of a side, England, Sarfraz had clear cut plans up his sleeve that his men executed to perfection. And in the finals, he out-skippered Virat Kohli, much to the agony of the Indian fans.
This brings us to the big question. Can he trigger the renaissance in Test cricket as well for Pakistan?
All arrows point towards a refreshing breath of air on Pakistan cricket. Sarfraz has big shoes to fill with Misbah-ul-Haq, the former skipper, being the most successful Pakistan Test skipper with 26 wins in 56 matches at the helm. That said Sarfraz is everything that Misbah is not. Misbah was a true soldier, marching along with his troops and leading them from the front all at the same time, composed and calm in the face of storm.
Sarfraz is quite the opposite. A flamboyant, instinctive skipper, the wicket-keeper is not afraid to experiment as he showed in the Champions Trophy with how he used Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan.
What Sarfraz brings to the table is the exact brand of leadership that Pakistan cricket needs right now. A refreshing style that puts his players in control and gives them more responsibility. The difference between Pakistan’s fielding in the first game of the Champions Trophy and the rest of the tournament is proof that Sarfraz is quick to pick out where his team went wrong and make them work on it quicker.
The Test side has lurked in the bottom half of the rankings for way too long. The odd good series in their adopted home is almost always followed by thumping away losses and their vulnerable batting line-up has been cited as a major issue in their inability to be consistent. It is said that the perfect leader brings the best out of his men. If Fakhar Zaman and Hasan Ali’s performances in the Champions Trophy are anything to go by, Sarfraz sure knows a thing or two about inspiring his men.
Talking of inspiration, who better for him to take a cue from other than the most charismatic leader to lead Pakistan cricket, Imran Khan. It might be too early to compare Sarfraz to the legendary cricketer but early indications are that Pakistan have a budding leader in their latest Test skipper.
Not since the time of Imran Khan has a Pakistan Test skipper generated so much buzz before his first Test match as captain. Not since the time of Imran Khan has a Pakistani ODI skipper led his country to an ICC trophy until this diminutive wicket-keeper led his country to glory. For a side that changes skippers at the speed of light, Sarfraz is a gem worth wrapping in cotton wool.