This is it for Sarfraz Ahmed. The pressure on his captaincy is at the highest level it has ever been and most likely will ever be. A slip here is almost certain to expedite changes in Pakistan’s Test leadership.
Pakistan have been exemplary in T20 cricket, indifferent in ODIs and below average in Tests. Over the past season, the focus has been on the workload of Sarfraz as he is the keeper, batsman and captain in all formats, not even affording himself a break against Zimbabwe.
Defeats have started to pile up, starting with the ‘home’ Test series defeat to Sri Lanka at the end of 2017, followed by the Asia Cup debacle and Test series defeat to New Zealand in the UAE and culminating in a morale-crushing defeat to South Africa in the Boxing Day Test.
In nine Tests in 2018, Sarfraz scored two fifities – both in one game against Australia in Abu Dhabi. No wonder Pakistan’s batting has struggled to match the efforts of its bowling attack.
As Pakistan gear up for the New Year Test against South Africa in Cape Town, it’s time to prepare a contingency plan if things go pear-shaped against the hosts.
The question is – if Pakistan do have to look beyond Sarfraz as far as Test captaincy is concerned, who can be his replacement? Let’s take a look at three options.
The most straightforward option for Pakistan. The middle-order batsman has captained Pakistan in 31 ODIs and even skippered in one Test. The 33-year-old has more than 70 Tests under his belt and in a difficult 2018 for Pakistan’s batting managed an average of 30; not great but not as bad as Sarfraz. He brings in familiarity and experience in leadership, which can be an asset in uncertain times.
However, it might not be the best option looking at the long term as Pakistan need a fresh set of eyes they can invest in for the next four to five years leading up to the Test Championship.
The next big hope of Pakistan batting. The supremely talented youngster has already made a name for himself in T20 cricket, becoming the fastest to 1,000 runs. He proved his class in the Boxing Day Test against the Proteas, hitting a 79-ball 71 when the chips were down in the first innings to give his team a fighting chance. Yes, he failed in the second innings but you can’t overlook an otherwise fine 2018 for Azam as he scored a century and six fifties at an average of 56.
Also, he has some captaincy experience, leading the U19 team at the World Cup in 2012. The 24-year-old offers a fresh template on which Pakistan can work on and build the team.
A surprising name that has been floated around. The top-order batsman showed great courage in the first Test against South Africa, coming in as a late replacement for the injured Haris Sohail just hours before the start of the Test and scoring a brave 19 and 65 – even picking up a wicket.
His composure at the crease and erudite responses in press conferences have gained him some plaudits. The Pakistan management can consider him for a leadership role in some capacity. At 29 years of age, he offers quite a few years for Pakistan to make a long-term plan around him.
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