For all the talk of Hafeez, Fawad and even Wahab (together with the Pakistani equivalent of the Crazy Loony Party – the Shoaib Malik fanboys) the choice for the captaincy of the Pakistani ODI team was really between two men: Azhar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed. Thus it was no surprise that one was appointed the captain, the other the vice.
On the surface there isn’t much of a difference between the two. Both are anomalies in Pakistan in their ability to maximise their talents rather than fail to live up to it. Both spent years proving themselves in the domestic game before establishing themselves in the Pakistan colours. And until 2014, neither had the greatest of fanbases. Azhar’s year began with scoring a hundred to anchor a 300 run chase in the 4th innings of a Test match (not exactly Pakistan’s strongest suit) and ended with him averaging over 60 in five autumn Tests against Australia and New Zealand. Sarfraz meanwhile, quite simply, had the greatest calendar year a Pakistani wicketkeeper has ever had.
Some people believed that Sarfraz should have been the captain. Unlike Azhar, his position in the XI isn’t under scrutiny (or at least as much as a Pakistani’s can be) and with his ability to play all three formats, he seemed the obvious choice in a country that has always preferred to have a single man lord over them, regardless of the number of formats. There was, of course, the obvious fear of handing Sarfraz too much responsibility to bear – a makeshift opener and a captain across formats in a country where the captains duties are 24/7 seemed too much for anyone. After all, we’ve seen the likes of Sangakkara and de Villiers try to reduce their wicket-keeping duties when they’ve been appointed captain, so it makes sense to let Sarfraz blossom and play with freedom before making him accountable for anything and everything that happens on a tour. But if this was the case, it wasn’t conveyed to the public by the PCB.
Beyond that there was little else separating them – both have done well in the domestic game, both have succeeded in the few opportunities they’ve had to captain these sides – Azhar’s success with Balochistan in the Pentangular this year perhaps being the most eye catching of them. Azhar can also point to his successes with the all conquering SNGPL team and Sarfraz to the World Champion under-19 team and both would have cases worth fighting over.
But that’s not the discussion we’re having. As if trying to prove that the game and our petty squabbles are greater than any single individual, the post-Afridi and Misbah era is just a continuation of what has gone before. The concern with Azhar for far too many isn’t his results or his suitability or how modern his approach is but instead that he’s “defensive”. It seems that outside of Shane Warne, no one is as concerned about body language and intangibles as Pakistanis. Or rather no one else thinks that the look in your eye is more important than the results you have.
I’d like to believe that results can persuade the masses over the course of time. But we just saw an era where Pakistan were the best bowling side on the ODI circuit – barring an eight month patch in 2014 – and ended a World Cup where no one else was able to successfully defend a target under 260, except them, who did it twice. And yet at the end of that era the captain and the team were still considered defensive and lacking in whatever the body language fetishists desire.
But right now there’s a sense of déjà vu. For the captaincy, the words of the coach Waqar Younis were followed and the boring Punjabi was preferred to the dashing Karachiite. The battle lines have been there for the past five years and what seemed like the end of an era might end up being only the finish of a single chapter.
The past fortnight has been spent solidifying our biases, with no tangible evidence to go on. It somehow feels appropriate.
Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show
Pace is Pace Yaar
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB)