It was imminent. It has happened. Pakistan skipper Babar Azam has lost his popularity with his team-mates as well as with the team management; sources told WE News.
This means a report from the team management to the Pakistan Cricket Board will recommend that Babar be replaced as skipper of all formats. Although team director Mickey Arthur believes that Babar should be given the opportunity to learn as captain, sources said his report is likely to recommend a change in captaincy.
Mickey will survive in the team director’s post, and so will Grant Bradburn as head coach as PCB management committee chief Zaka Ashraf has been advised not to sack the management. “They must go on the tough tour of Australia, where Pakistan has not won a Test since 1995. Let them suffer there and then only remove them,” has been the words of advice to Zaka Ashraf.
But it is highly unlikely that Babar would keep his post in white ball cricket. “A change is a must,” said a source.”I can tell you that Babar is no longer popular with his team-mates and the team management also wants a change in captaincy.” When asked what is his future as skipper before the final World Cup game, Babar replied; “I will decide after this match or when I go back home,” was a brief reply. Decide he will, but on the advice of his father who will dissuade him from stepping aside. Former PCB chairman Ramiz Raja was also seen having a discussion with Babar ahead of the England match. Ramiz also thinks that Babar should continue.
Coming back to Babar, losing the support of the players was proved by the pictures you have seen during the World Cup. They clearly showed that Babar’s most trusted companion, Mohammad Rizwan, was rarely standing besides his skipper and advising him. The question was asked to Iftikhar Ahmed during one of the mixed zone sessions, and he replied, “Those who are usually close to the bowlers give advice and there is nothing like ignoring Babar.”
During his three-year tenure Babar had enjoyed great powers in team selection. He has been accused of favouring his group of friends and the stalemate while selecting the World Cup squad was squarely because Babar was not agreeing to some of the players and he wanted his choice of players.
“Babar wanted Faheem Ashraf in the squad and not Saud Shakil,” said a source. “But the team management debated and convinced him that Saud could be a better choice in India because he plays spin well.” But former captain Misbah-ul-Haq had suggested the Board reconsider the selection of out-of-form Shadab Khan and Mohammad Nawaz. “When the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) management committee chairman Zaka Ashraf asked me regarding the spin attack, I suggested that Abrar Ahmed should be included in the squad; however, it was not accepted,” said Misbah, apparently hinting at Babar, who was behind the decision.
It was Babar who was against the idea of dropping Shadab. When the allrounder suffered a concussion during the match against South Africa, it was expected that Pakistan would bring in Abrar as a replacement. But Babar resisted and continued with Shadab who in the end, had a miserable World Cup, taking just two wickets in six matches and managing 121 with the bat.
Babar was also behind the decision not to play Fakhar Zaman in the match against South Africa despite he attained full fitness from a knee injury. Babar’s point of view was that Fakhar was not middling the ball in the nets, and giving him a chance would be a match earlier. Fakhar was finally played in the match against Bangladesh, where he smashed 81 and 126 against New Zealand.
It seemed Fakhar wanted to prove a point that he was unduly not playing against South Africa. He seemingly vented his anger in a media interaction ahead of the New Zealand match. “My injury was not so severe that I could not play,” said Zaman. “I had recovered from the injury and could have played as and when the team needed.”
Zaka Ashraf was also in the eye of the storm in the central contract fiasco. He believes that Babar was the leader on whose direction the players took up a fight on central contracts. Zaka would also be in favour of appointing a new skipper.
So, step aside or not, PCB is not likely to continue with Babar Azam. The two favourites for the responsibility are Shaheen Shah Afridi and Rizwan. Let’s see in whose favour the dice is rolled.