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Afghanistan v Pakistan

Babar Azam is still the best of Pakistan’s wealth of captaincy options – interference would be a mistake

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

There are rarely prolonged periods of tranquility in the decision-making corridors of Pakistan cricket. The public mudslinging that followed Ramiz Raja’s departure as PCB chair in late 2022 didn’t shine a good light on anyone and it feels like it’s never that long between one boardroom drama to the next.

In recent times, this has been in stark contrast to the dressing room harmony enjoyed by the national team. While in Test cricket Pakistan endured a difficult World Test Championship cycle that can partly be attributed to injuries to their fast bowlers and a set of lifeless home pitches, Pakistan have fared decently in white-ball cricket under the captaincy of Babar Azam. They’re well placed to mount a challenge for a semi-final spot at this year’s World Cup and in T20 cricket, they have reached a World Cup semi-final and final in the last 18 months. Had Shaheen Afridi not limped off the field at the MCG with 46 per cent of his spell remaining in the dying embers of the T20 World Cup final, Pakistan may well have been crowned world champions.

Which makes the murmurings around Babar’s status as T20I captain all the more baffling. During the recently concluded PSL there were reports suggesting that Babar’s tenure as T20I captain was set to be brought to an end; these were effectively quashed by his mooted replacement Shaheen Afridi, who posted a cryptic tweet reiterating his support for the man who led those two Pakistan World Cup runs.


In another white-ball World Cup year (in fairness, they all are these days), it is worth dwelling on Babar’s record and credentials as captain. There were legitimate concerns around the passivity of his captaincy during the England Test series late last year, but it is worth remembering how weak his attack was and how different it is captaining a Test side compared to a T20 outfit.

In Tests, particularly those held in Pakistan at the moment, captains are forced to be creative in their quest for 20 wickets. The out-of-the-box thinking exhibited by Ben Stokes is a more sought-after quality in a Test captain than it is in white-ball cricket, where so much of the strategy is predetermined by the think-tank before the game; white-ball captaincy is more about ensuring that players are in the right frame of mind to stick to the plan, rather than coming up with a strategy on the hoof.

His record as captain is excellent. Pakistan practically win twice as many T20Is as they lose, and there is fair case to be made that they have been the most consistent side across the past two T20 World Cups after white-ball juggernauts England. In ODIs, Babar is yet to lead his side at a World Cup but the numbers are once again very good. Only Saleem Malik, who led Pakistan in the early 1990s, boasts a better win-loss ratio as Pakistan ODI captain.

One of the bonuses of having such a high quality domestic T20 competition like the PSL is that it is the perfect environment to give potential international captains leadership exposure in high pressure environments. In Babar, Shaheen, Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan, Pakistan have four players utterly vital to their white-ball plans who now have considerable captaincy experience.

Shaheen has now won back-to-back PSLs as Lahore Qalandars captain but it would be a mistake to therefore assume that he’s the ideal man for the Pakistan job right now. In Lahore’s one-run win in Saturday’s PSL final, Shaheen made the inspired choice to promote himself up to No. 7 ahead of David Wiese at the back-end of the Lahore innings. It paid off in some style. Shaheen was a calm sounding board for youngster Zaman Khan who executed an almost perfect final over to seal the game in Lahore’s favour, but there were also moments where, like all great fast bowlers in the heat of battle, Shaheen wasn’t in total control of his emotions, particularly at the start of the Multan Sultans run chase when Rizwan’s men raced off to an ominous flier. Shaheen was fortunate to lean on the experience of the likes of Wiese and Sam Billings to calm things down just as it looked as the game was getting away from them.

A constant in Pakistan’s relative success at the last two T20 World Cups has been the dressing room environment, a new core unscarred by previous farce working well in harmony. They don’t get every decision right – part of their success in the 2022 T20 World Cup can be attributed to the forced inclusion of Mohammad Haris after Fakhar Zaman’s injury – but why seek to disrupt that atmosphere that has worked well so close to a World Cup? And not just any World Cup, the most World Cup of World Cups, a six-week bonanza over the border in India. Surely there can be no more powerful image for Pakistani cricket than the prospect of a trophy lift at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

With Babar at the helm, Pakistan are in a good position to be genuine contenders – why jeopardise that? As ever with Pakistan cricket, the easiest path is rarely the route that is taken.

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