Sarfraz Ahmed has been mediocre as a captain and needs to pull his socks up as early as possible….
In this era, Pakistan don’t have the luxury to have so many captaincy-options like the era of Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, which is good in a sense that the funny show of changing captains each year does not take place, but at the same time, it leads to a sense of too much dependency towards one person, which is bad in a sense, neither the person face the challenge of being axed or feel the challenge to rethink about his strategies as because, without him, the hierarchy has no other best options.
Sarfraz Ahmed was the obvious choice as the captain of Pakistan after Misbah-ul-Haq left and currently he is in that sort of a state, where he is not challenged about his place. Neither has he the challenge from someone like Javed Miandad nor has he the worry to face the heat from someone like Aamer Sohail or Rashid Latif or Waqar Younis. Even, there are no characters like Shahid Afridi or Younis Khan to raise the issue of change of guards whenever the time is tough.
Sarfraz is leading the side without such challenges and in a sense, he has not done badly so far in the limited-overs version and five-day matches. Winning a Test at Lord’s and then drawing the Test series against England at their own den deserves praise and until the end of a nightmarish Asia Cup campaign, the euphoria of Champions Trophy was at its peak, where Sarfraz led from the front to help Pakistan overcame their arch-rivals in the finals.
But Sarfraz, at present, I think, has not thought to revise his strategies more often. The state of being the “obvious choice and cannot be replaced,” perhaps has made Sarfraz a bit over-confident and reluctant, which is neither good for him nor Pakistan.
In the post-tea session, the ardent followers of Pakistan waited anxiously about the outcome of the Dubai Test, which transformed into an absolute thriller by some praiseworthy fightbacks from the Australian batsmen. In the past eight years, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become a fort for Pakistan and no matter how close a Test might get, at the end of the day, it had always been Pakistan, who laughed the last laugh in the desert.
But since last year, that scenario seems to have changed. Pakistan’s ten-year unbeaten record at home was breached by a mediocre Sri Lankan side, while yesterday, it seemed, the desert is losing its love for the men in green. The desert loves the men who fight with a plan and does not wait for things to happen. I am sorry to say, Sarfraz can’t expect much if he waits for the things to happen rather than having a definitive strategy.
One could not understand his plan to rely too much on an old workhorse like Wahab Riaz for wickets whereas he looked out of sorts from the word go. This Wahab is not the Wahab of Adelaide, but a pacer who is all set to become yesterday’s men. Neither does he have that deceptive pace nor the skill to set jitters in a batting line-up! If he struggled to fetch wickets against this depleted Australian batting line-up, surely, Wahab is not a force anymore and only a person without vision and knowledge would invest faith in him.
Then, Sarfraz’s decision of not bowling Mohammad Abbas – the best bowler of the match – enough on the final day when Pakistan needed wickets, remains baffling for all. Sarfraz relied on Wahab’s reverse-swing, but he clearly forgot, Abbas is also a master of this craft and is able to move the old ball from both ways. He tried the Yasir-Asif combination for a collapse, but traditionally, Pakistan’s strategy with a spin and pace combination has always struck gold in the past. An Asif-miracle won’t happen every time, but the captain needs to stick to his best bowling combination to force a win.
Then there was his defensive field set. He never let the Australian batsmen felt, they were being attacked, but let them feel, Pakistan were playing for a draw like them. A captain needs to attack and make his bowlers feel that he wants wickets rather than drying up runs. On the final day, you don’t set fields to dry up runs when the opposition is chasing a total of more than 450.
Sarfraz wants to establish a philosophy and every captain wants such. But the philosophy should be such that his teammates understand and it helps to force results rather than leaving everyone puzzled. Unpredictability does not always help to win, but for a victory, a certain plan is needed. I hope the sooner Sarfraz realise this, the better it would be for him.