Captaincy drama rocks Pakistan cricket again

Controversy over statement issued on behalf of outgoing skipper Shaheen Afridi

Shaheen Afridi was replaced as Pakistan's T20 captain. Getty Images
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Pakistan cricket plunged into crisis over the weekend following a seemingly shoddy change of captaincy.

Babar Azam returned as the white-ball captain of Pakistan, replacing Shaheen Afridi as 20-over skipper ahead of the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and US in June. Afridi's stint as captain lasted just one series – a 4-1 T20 loss in New Zealand in January.

The appointment of Mohsin Naqvi as the new chairman of the Pakistan board was expected to result in more changes in the team structure and he quickly brought Azam back as captain; the star batsman had stepped down as skipper in all formats in November after Pakistan crashed out of the 50-over World Cup in the first round in India.

However, the return of Azam as captain and the ousting of Afridi has been far from smooth.

The PCB sent out a press release announcing the change on Sunday, which included a statement of support from Afridi. However, reports from ESPNcricinfo, AFP and Geo News have claimed that Afridi did not give any quotes in support of Azam and had been planning to issue a clarification over the events.

“It was an absolute honour to captain the Pakistan national cricket team. I will always cherish the memories and the opportunity," Afridi is supposed to have said in a statement from the PCB.

"As a team player, it is my duty to back our captain, Babar Azam. I have played under his captaincy and have nothing but respect for him. I will try to help him on and off the field. We are all one. Our aim is the same, to help Pakistan become the best team in the world.”

The Pakistan board have been forced to hold a crisis meeting with Afridi and other decision-makers. Chairman Naqvi, who is also the country's interior minister, is scheduled to visit Pakistan team's training in Kakul on Monday.

After taking up the captaincy reins once again, Azam said he aims to take the Pakistan team back to the top.

“It was a pleasure to play under Shaheen’s leadership in the recent T20I series. He is still young and is improving as a player and as a leader every day," Azam was quoted as saying by the PCB in the same statement.

"As a captain, I have always valued his input and I will keep consulting him for important decisions going forward. We must take advantage of his strategic understanding of the game. Our joint aim is to make this team the best in the world.”

The latest saga comes after a week of major changes in Pakistan. Earlier, fast bowler Mohammad Amir announced he will come out of retirement, while all-rounder Imad Wasim also reversed his decision to quit four months ago.

Both players are now almost certain to make it to the team for the T20 World Cup in June.

Afridi seems to have paid the price for a poor run of results. Not only did Pakistan lose the T20 series in New Zealand, but his Lahore Qalandars franchise also performed disastrously in the recent Pakistan Super League.

There, the Qalandars finished last after winning just one out of 10 league matches after lifting the title in the previous two seasons of the tournament.

The return of Azam as captain is expected to complicate matters further as long-time incumbents Mohammad Rizwan and Shadab Khan would have expected to be named the next T20 captain. Rizwan guided Multan Sultans to three consecutive PSL finals while Shadab clinched the title for Islamabad United this year.

There are other issues of concern as well. Reports emerged that a few Pakistan players fared poorly in their fitness camp with the military in Kakul. Some players are said to have registered sub-standard times in the 2km runs, with one player unable to even finish it.

Pakistan’s next international assignment is a five-match T20 series against New Zealand at home, starting on April 18. The team in green are also due to play three T20s against Ireland and four against England before the T20 World Cup.

Updated: April 01, 2024, 11:02 AM