Babar Back as Skipper But is he a Popular CHOICE?

Mon Apr 01 2024
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Shahid Akhtar Hashmi

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“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” is the popular verdict on Babar Azam’s reappointment as white-ball skipper of the Pakistan cricket team. When Babar was forced to step down from all-format captaincy on November 15, 2023, it was deemed as a wrong decision. A knee-jerk reaction after the World Cup 2023 failure, but that is very common in Pakistan cricket.

Some things never change, and Pakistan cricket is one of them.

So true to the cliche ‘Pakistan cricket can never change, “now Babar is reappointed. Pakistan Cricket Board said it was  “following unanimous recommendation from the PCB’s selection committee.” Some of the members of this selection committee were critical of Babar’s captaincy in the not-so-distant past. How things change so fast is anybody’s guess.

But the big QUESTION is: how will this decision impact the Pakistan cricket team’s performance in the Twenty20 World Cup, which is just three months away. It is bound to have adverse effects. We sincerely hope it doesn’t happen.  The simple reason is that Babar does not enjoy the same popularity as a skipper as he did before the World Cup last year. Some of the players were really unhappy with his style of captaincy. Some in the management were also saying “A change in captaincy is a must.”

The two most resented parties will be Shaheen Shah Afridi — removed only after one series — and Mohammad Rizwan — seen as the best and most compromising candidate for the top job. Also, skeptical of their chances of playing for Pakistan will be Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir. Both reversed their decisions of retirement. But will Babar agree to include them in the World Cup squad? It was widely noted that Babar was not in favour of selecting the duo, mainly Imad. Babar now has to prove that he is above all that and will select players on merit. He was vociferously accused of favouring his friends in selection. That impression also needed to be removed.

So how did things change in 137 days? Babar stepped down on November 15, 2023.

But ever since Mohsin Naqvi took over as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board he had hinted at a change. Last Sunday he categorically stated that there will be a serious consideration of some factors and then a final decision will be taken.

“Even I don’t know who the captain will be,” Naqvi said in Lahore. “Whether Shaheen continues or a new captain comes in will be determined after the fitness camp [starting on Monday]. There are a number of technical factors we will consider, the details of which I do not want to go into. We want a long-term solution, whether it’s Shaheen or a new man. And then we intend to stick by that man, instead of just changing a captain just because you lose a match or captain.”

When Pakistan lost 4-1 to New Zealand eyebrows were raised at Shaheen’s captaincy. But it was an early reaction. But what changed Naqvi’s mind as well as those of the selectors was Shaheen’s captaincy in PSL’s ninth edition which ended earlier this month. Qalandars won just one game out of ten and finished bottom of the PSL table but that should not be seen as sloppy captaincy. Qalandars suffered mainly due to the non-availability of ace Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan who withdrew due to back injury. But his missing the PSL broke the backbone of the Lahore team. The second most important factor was the lack of runs from opener Fakhar Zaman. Zaman was a star performer in Qalandars’ back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023, but this time he managed just 157 runs in eight innings.

Another factor that could have gone against Shaheen was his workload management and fitness vulnerability. One cannot guarantee that Shaheen could play all the matches and will keep his fitness.

So finally the confusion is over. Let’s pray that Babar regains the confidence of his players. His T20I captaincy record of 71 matches, 42 wins and 23 losses (six no results) is around 60 per cent success ratio. But he has to regain the confidence of his players, adopt an aggressive attitude and take bold decisions. Pakistan played one semi-final (2021 World Cup) and one final (2022 T20I World Cup ), so if all goes well Pakistan can lift the Cup come June 29 at Barbados.

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