Even Ayyan would be a better choice than Azhar Ali
Not satisfied with having had a poor World Cup campaign and an average limited overs cricket record during their reigns, it seems that both coach Waqar Younis and retired ODI captain Misbahul Haq have decided to leave us with a parting gift. This parting gift exemplifies their horribly defensive mindset which has been a major factor in the Pakistan ODI team’s mediocrity.
Various reports state that it was the duo that influenced the PCB into naming Azhar Ali as the new ODI captain. It almost seems like a joke where Pakistan cricket is the punch line.
Misbah has been a fantastic hand for Pakistan cricket and a knight in shining armour for a struggling team, but he has not been without his flaws. For one, he lacks the ability to rotate the strike when building an innings. This flaw has been less obvious because the skipper has invariably come in during a crisis. However, he has often hurt the momentum after the team has been off to a good start, dragging the run rate down. What’s more, his defensive style has sometimes created needless pressure on the other batsmen, especially when chasing a score.
While Misbah is proud of reaching the quarter-finals, let’s be honest, the nature of the tournament certainly played a part in getting us there in spite of Pakistan’s awful performances against India, the West Indies, and Zimbabwe. Perhaps our knockout opponents would have been easier adversaries than the eventual finalists Australia had management not adopted a safety first attitude. In the game against West Indies, seven batsmen (eight, if you count Shahid Afridi) were played. Fawad Alam a leading scorer was ignored, while Younus Khan who has a poor ODI record, and newcomer Haris Sohail, whose limitations were exposed in Australia, were inexplicably selected. Meanwhile, Yasir Shah, possibly the best spinner in the tournament was neglected – except for a game against the world’s best players of spin – while South Africa utilised Imran Tahir.
The short term mentality was also exposed when the injury prone Muhammad Irfan, Pakistan’s primary weapon, was not given the rest he deserved against the UAE. Management was so afraid of defeat that the big fast bowler was cut open like the goose that laid golden eggs. To make matters worse, Nasir Jamshed, who was picked by management against the wishes of selectors, was given far too many chances. Certainly, our tournament would have been easier with Sarfraz Ahmed opening the batting early in the World Cup.
You can’t say that these mistakes are only obvious after they happened. Like countless others, I had called for Sarfraz to open, Yasir and Fawad to play every game, Younus to be dropped, Irfan to be rested against the UAE match, before management made the mistakes.
While these selection issues were clearly the fault of captain and coach, of course, the majority of the blame lies with the Pakistani batsmen, who showed both a lack of skill and temperament for international cricket. At the very least, Misbah, as the batsman, was fighting for the nation in every game, as he always has.
But the skipper has taken Pakistan as far as he can within the limitations of his abilities and cautious mind-set. As captain, he rescued a side recovering from dark controversies, and has certainly boasted some fantastic victories in Test cricket. But while his style has kept the ODI cricket team from hitting rock bottom, it is now clear that he can never reach the top of the mountain either. In an age where teams are scoring 350 runs a match, his cautious approach towards batting and team composition are archaic at best.
This is exactly why the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) should have ignored Misbah’s suggestion of selecting Azhar as the new ODI captain.
Often, though not always, a captain’s playing style is an extension of their mindset. For example, Imran Khan was both an aggressive all-rounder and an aggressive leader. Similarly, Wasim Akram was an attacking skipper. Javed Miandad was a shrewd batsman, and a wise vice-captain.
It is for this reason that Azhar seems like the wrong man to take Pakistan’s ODI team forward. I can see why Misbah has recommended him – it is the same reason he persisted with a defensive player like Asad Shafiq in the ODI team, because he reminds Misbah of himself.
Certainly, Azhar seems to have a giant heart and is batsman who does not get dismissed so easily, but he carries the exact same flaws as Misbah, except that they are far worse in Azhar, like a terminal disease. If Misbah has trouble rotating the strike, then Azhar seems completely incapable. In fact, Azhar only operates on first or fourth gear. Whereas Test cricket is a game of more deliberately paced batting, most modern batsmen bat with a strike rate of at least 50. Azhar, on the other hand, bats at 39.56.
There are few things as exciting as watching Azhar play a Test innings. Watching paint dry is one of them. Observing the ceiling fan rotate slowly for a few hours is another.
Yes, everything we don’t like about Misbah, we really won’t like about Azhar. He is like a bad Misbah impersonator; a Misbah clone with second-hand parts. A Mini-Me of Misbah, if you will.
Now is the time to upgrade our operating system, not install a pirated copy of Misbah 2.0.
Selecting Azhar is like slapping on a band-aid when the wound has healed. Our broken leg has mended. It’s not time for another crutch; it’s time to learn how to run again.
If Azhar Ali was that good, why couldn't he make it to the WC squad? pic.twitter.com/1pbOv7bt3X— Asif Farooqi (@Asif_Farooqi) March 28, 2015
Here, I have come up with a list of candidates who would be better options than Azhar:
1. Wahab Riaz
The tears flowing from his eyes showed how much World Cup glory had meant to him. Similar emotions were written on the South African cricketers’ faces after they lost to New Zealand. On the other hand, players such as Younus and Afridi were all grins after crashing out. We need a player who truly loves playing for Pakistan, and Wahab seems like the man. The fact that he’s an aggressive bowler would also be a welcome change in leadership.
2. Sarfraz Ahmed
He seems like a natural choice, having captained Pakistan to U19 glory. Sarfaraz is an attacking player who has the mental toughness for the job. In fact, this choice seems almost too natural for the PCB, and we know how easily they miss a target when it is staring straight at them.
3. Fawad Alam
He is perhaps the best limited overs batsman in Pakistan and has loads of experience captaining at domestic level. My only concern is the state of his mental wellbeing. Fawad is the Cinderella of Pakistan cricket; stuck in the attic while his ugly stepsisters enjoy the limelight. He’ll need to be groomed if he is made skipper. And by groomed, I mean a shave and a haircut.
This young Pakistan comedian may steal some of his jokes, but at least he has the common sense to steal the good ones. On the other hand, Azhar looks to have borrowed only Misbah’s shortcomings.
5. Ayyan Ali
Look, she may not be very bright, but she has made some dangerous friends and tried something quite daring, illegal as it was. Although it may seem physically impossible, she certainly seems to have greater testicular fortitude than some Pakistani cricketers.