Why it’s imperative for Hafeez to replace Misbah as Pakistan captain

Mohammad Hafeez is young enough to blend the young and old blood in the team © Getty Images

By Faisal Nadeem

Since the dreadful English summer of 2010 — when Pakistan lost three key players due to the spot-fixing scandal — Misbah-ul-Haq has been leading the Pakistan cricket team in at least two formats of the game.

Considering the tough circumstances, Misbah has done a commendable job — both, as a player and as a captain.

Some of his achievements include the Asia Cup title (2012), ODI series win against India (2013), and a Test series white-wash (2012) against the then world No 1 Test side England in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
It was Misbah’s calmness that helped improve the team’s Test ranking to number four. As a captain, he has won nine (four losses) out of 20 Test matches, and 21 (13 losses) out of 35 One-Day Internationals (ODIs).

His personal stats (averages: 43-plus in Test matches, and 41-plus in ODIs) are also reasonably good.

However, the devil lies in the details; the criticism against Misbah is that most of his wins are in favourable sub-continental conditions, and against the weaker oppositions, such as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and Ireland (11 of his 21).

Additionally, his current batting forms, recent on-field decisions, his increasing age, and his role in team selections are all under a severe scanner, especially after a humiliating 0-3 drubbing against South Africa.
There is a call for the change of leadership. Sooner or later, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) will need to make a decision. But does Pakistan have enough eligible candidates for the job?

Pakistan’s automatic choices

Every team has a bunch of automatic choices, around whom the selectors normally nurture younger players. For instance, Indian ODI side has a pool of established players like MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, and Gautam Gambhir. The rest of the team selection revolves around this ‘select-group’. India can easily groom a young player (like Kohli or Raina) for future leadership assignments.

The question is: How many players constitute Pakistan’s select-group?

In the current ODI setup, Nasir Jamshed, Junaid Khan and Umar Akmal are still not too experienced. Shoaib Malik, Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal, Younis Khan, and Asad Shafiq are all struggling for their places. Pondering over it deeply, I could only come up with Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, and Umar Gul.
Out of these three, Gul doesn’t seem like captaincy material. Ajmal is too old (35) and reserved. That leaves only Hafeez as the automatic choice to replace Misbah.

Let’s find how Hafeez has recently fared as a player:

Following his comeback in 2010, Hafeez’s personal performance speaks volumes of his ability, both with the ball and the bat.

Since 2011, he has won more Man of The Match awards (14) in all formats, than anyone else in the world. He is currently the No 4 ranked ODI bowler. He has scored more international hundreds (six and counting) than any other Pakistan player since his revival.

Moreover, at 32, he is young enough to blend the young and old blood in the team. Above all, he is a keen observer of the game and is popularly known as ‘the Professor’ due to this ability.

His only drawback would be his inability and poor technique on seaming tracks, which was skillfully exploited by Dale Steyn in the recent South Africa series.

Let’s find out what legacy he will inherit as a possible skipper.

Misbah’s legacy

Firstly, despite his reasonable success — both, as a captain and as a player — one simply cannot ignore the legacy Misbah will leave behind him — the ‘Tuk-Tuk’ legacy.

Historically speaking, Pakistan has never had an assured batting line-up; at least not in recent memory, but then, the team had never fallen to such lows either.

Barring Hafeez, almost every batsman is fighting for his place in the team, and this naturally ebbs down the confidence levels, as well as the batting strike rates. The situation becomes particularly miserable if the team has to chase anything above 250 runs, even against the weaker oppositions like Bangladesh. Does anyone remember the third ODI against India recently, where Pakistan failed to chase 167 odd runs?
Secondly, in the past, Imran Khan left behind him a good team — consisting of young Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Inzamam-ul-Haq. Likewise, Akram was able to groom a few players, like Waqar, Mohammad Yousaf, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq, and Abdul Razzaq. But the two ‘ul-Haqs’ (Inzamam and Misbah) failed to do so.

Misbah took up the captaincy in the worst times (2010), but can he proudly claim that he will leave a good team behind him?

I don’t think so. The batting is miserable, bowling options are sporadic, and the fielding is usually pathetic.

Challenges for the new captain

Like any other new Pakistani captain, Hafeez must be ready to face the music. It isn’t easy to be the captain of the Pakistani cricket team; being scrutinised by all age groups in the country. A passionate and war-stricken nation is hungry for each speck of happiness, especially coming from its cricket team.

It expects nothing short of quintessential performances.

The captain is the center of attention; he’s a celebrated hero when the team is winning and pariah when it is losing.

Often times, even a win cannot spare him, like what happened to Misbah (in March 2012), when he was grilled by the media at the Lahore airport due to his lack of runs soon after his team brought home the Asia Cup.

Apart from the high expectations and a challenging media environment, a Pakistani captain has to cope with the poor PCB management. He has to deal with the bureaucratic mess in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), poor selection policies, some blue-eyed players, and comparatively lower benefits.

The PCB will most probably have to make a decision that will eventually be to handover the leadership to someone else — the sooner, the better.

However, despite the media woes, one must not forget Misbah’s contributions; sadly, age is not on his side. It is the right time for him to call it a day.

Hafeez is the natural and inevitable follow-up. The “Professor” has the spark that can take Pakistan to victory.

(Faisal Nadeemis an electrical engineer with a Master’s degree in Information Technology with interests in sports, art, literature, culture and religion. The above article is reproduced with permission from www. http://tribune.com.pk/)