Matches in the first three weeks of the Cricket World Cup 2023 in India can largely be described as 'dull' and 'boring'. But as we close in on the 'business end' of the tournament with the Semi-Finals looming, finally, it seems as if the tournament has come alive with a slew of nail-biting matches in the past week.
The tournament has suddenly erupted like a volcano.
It was Pakistan who broke the monotony of one-sided games with their match against the Proteas, which turned out to be a thrilling last-ball contest. While many thought it started off as any other match in the first half of the tournament, it suddenly took a turn and became an edge-of-your-seat thriller, with spectators jumping out of their seats with excitement after every ball.
The beauty of close games such as the one between South Africa and Pakistan is that every ball becomes an event; there is no breathing room when a tense cricket match is underway. The South Africa-Pakistan game was a breathtaking contest, with ebbs and flows every minute.
Ultimately, the result was not the one 242 million people in Pakistan desperately desired: a win.
Nevertheless, fans saw a real fight by the men in dark green, perhaps for the first time in the tournament. So much so there was a genuine feeling of being robbed of the result when the umpire's call on Tabraiz Shamsi's dismissal went against Pakistan by a whisker.
I believe that replacing a captain like Babar Azam should not be a mere change for the sake of it. It should be about investing in a captain who can prove to be a better leader than his predecessor
The concept of the umpire's call has always perplexed me; it seems like a helping hand for the umpires and a punishment for the cricketers. Why should marginal calls favour the umpires instead of the players?
Moving on, the loss against South Africa meant that Pakistan remained in a precarious position in the tournament, with a negative run rate, a captaincy lacking flair and intent, and an inability to grind out a win in difficult games, barring moments of individual brilliance.
I truly believe that the problems currently besetting Pakistan's cricket team mostly relate to its incumbent captaincy. A lot has been said about it by myself and the media at large on this topic already. Instead, I believe it is perhaps time to focus on a successor to Babar Azam post-World Cup!
I believe that replacing a captain like Babar Azam should not be a mere change for the sake of it. It should be about investing in a captain who can prove to be a better leader than his predecessor.
A leader should embody calmness, tactical superiority, sharpness under pressure, and a deep understanding of available resources and their most efficient use. Most importantly, when in the field, a captain should know his bowlers well and have a plan for every opponent batter, including their strengths and weaknesses. They should be able to use clever field placements to get the batter out.
A recent example of clever captaincy was displayed by South African captain Temba Bavuma, who had had Imam-ul-Haq caught in the short third-man area. A short ball made Haq play an uppish cut straight to that fielder's hands. Bavuma strategically placed the fielder for a specific batter and, as a result, was rewarded with a sitter.
In his three years as captain, I have not seen Babar planning a dismissal like that.
My point is that captaincy is not as simple as ordering different cuisines; it is not like deciding on Chinese food on the weekend and going for healthier options during the week. It is far more thought-provoking than making food choices. In this case, deciding that stuffing Hyderabadi biryani daily during a World Cup is perhaps not the best strategy.
Leading a cricket team requires hard work, imagination, intuition, bravery, and trust in one's gut feeling. Hence, changing the leader of a team is not about experimentation or deciding between wearing a light or dark blue pair of jeans; it is about solidifying matters under a capable individual who can come up with ideas that provide the most optimal route to beat the opponents, manage the quirks of his teammates and ensure the best utilisation of his charges.
To assist the new captains, we need a modern-day power-hitting coach, a younger chief selector, and an ever-present head coach, not a fleeting one
Whoever is picked to take up the mantle from Babar Azam, should contain bravery and intelligence, apart from the other qualities I mentioned earlier.
The person replacing Babar Azam should be a natural leader, not a forced experiment similar to Frankenstein's monster. He should have experience leading in either a domestic tournament or franchise cricket. They should not be afraid to make tough calls in difficult situations while adapting to the environments. He should understand the importance of field placement and be flexible with the batting order and team selection.
With captaincy of a Pakistan cricket team, at every level, a high-pressure job, I believe it would be a little unfair to have the same individual as the captain for all three formats. The pressure would be too great for one individual; the burden should be shared.
To cut to the chase, I have the names of two individuals in mind who I believe can take Pakistan cricket forward and bring better results than what we have seen in the past three years.
Mohammed Rizwan should captain Pakistan in the Tests and ODIs, while Shaheen Shah Afridi could take over the T20 captaincy and be vice-captain in the other two formats.
Rizwan's leadership of the Multan Sultans in the PSL showcased his qualities as a natural leader. He keeps a keen eye on the action as a wicketkeeper and never seems to lose his grip on the game.
Afridi, on the other hand, fits perfectly as a T20 captain, having led his team - Lahore Qalandars - to two successive titles. He leads by example with the ball and bat, knows well what resources are at his disposal, and makes bold moves under pressure to win important matches. He has to his credit the development of players such as Zaman Khan, Abdullah Shafique and Haris Rauf. Despite that, Afridi is not afraid of making difficult calls under the pump, which is sorely lacking in Babar's captaincy.
To assist the new captains, we need a modern-day power-hitting coach, a younger chief selector, and an ever-present head coach, not a fleeting one. If the right talent is provided to support the new captains, Pakistan could potentially become a powerhouse in the next few years, showing better results in all three formats.
Change is sometimes healthy, and in our current predicament, it is long overdue. The times have changed, and now, so should we.