Pakistan captain Sarfraz on mission barely possible in SA

Dejected Pakistani captain Sarfraz Ahmed (R) reacts during a ceremony on the third and final Test cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Sheikh Zayed International Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on December 7, 2018.
Dejected Pakistani captain Sarfraz Ahmed (R) reacts during a ceremony on the third and final Test cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand at the Sheikh Zayed International Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi on December 7, 2018.
Image: AAMIR QURESHI / AFP

First Graeme Smith climbs in to criticise Faf du Plessis’s captaincy‚ then Shaun Pollock has a go.

Here’s the opening shot across the bows: “I understand that a few people are asking for him to be removed as captain of the side and I am one of them.

“He is an ideal captain in the T20 and ODI formats as he has the right sort of passion which you need for the shorter forms of the game.

“In Test cricket‚ however‚ the biggest challenge is to concentrate for up to five days‚ at all times.”   

Then another‚ hardly less damning attack rings out: “He can’t continue to captain in all three formats. The pressure is too much for him.

“I think he should himself decide which format he should relinquish the captaincy. I don’t think he can manage being captain and performing in all three formats.

“Better for him if he decides to just focus on two formats; his performance will also improve.”

The captain himself is taking these concerns seriously: “If I make mistakes‚ or it is because of me that the team is losing then I will definitely think about it‚ and if there is someone better than me to be Test captain‚ then he should be.”

Not that Smith‚ Pollock or Du Plessis have said anything of the sort‚ nor that Du Plessis’s captaincy is under fire.

In fact‚ the first set of the quotes above was uttered by Asif Iqbal‚ the second by Zaheer Abbas‚ and the captain they’re talking about in those unflattering tones — and who clearly is paying views like theirs heed — is Sarfraz Ahmed.

The same Sarfraz Ahmed‚ mind‚ who has arrived in South Africa to lead Pakistan in a series of three Tests that starts in Centurion on December 26. And keep wicket and score runs at No 7.

And all that in the wake of presiding over Pakistan’s first series defeat by New Zealand in 49 years — during which Mohammad Hafeez‚ in decline but a reassuring presence at the top of the order in 55 Tests since 2003‚ retired from the format.

Welcome to the brutally honest world of cricket in Pakistan‚ where captaining the national cricket team could help get you elected prime minister.

Imran Khan is that captain‚ but he might not have been.

He retired after Pakistan lost to Australia in the 1987 World Cup semifinal in Lahore‚ and it needed another politician‚ Pakistan’s then president General Zia-Ul-Haq‚ to talk Imran back onto the field. Perhaps by means of an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Good thing‚ too: Imran led Pakistan back from the brink of elimination all the way to glory at the 1992 World Cup in the greatest cricket story ever told.

Indians adore their captains to the unhealthy degree of worshiping them‚ Australia’s are revered — unless they hold up a mirror to their compatriots‚ as Steve Smith has helped to do — England’s are seen as saints‚ even in the tabloid press‚ and not a bad word is tolerated about South Africa’s.

Reporters who write critically enough about the latter will hear from the tracksuits‚ who tell them there is disappointment and doubt in the dressingroom because it would seem “your blood is not green”.

The opposite would seem to be true in Pakistan‚ where respected figures in the game bring their immense influence to bear on current cricket debates.

So spare a thought for Sarfraz as he tries not only to engineer his team’s success in South Africa‚ but also at home.

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