Sarfaz as Test captain

K Shahid discusses the prospects of Pakistan's Champions Trophy-winning captain in the longest format

Sarfaz as Test captain
Sarfraz Ahmed was the favourite to become the Test captain even before the Champions Trophy. There was only one other contender for the position and it was the man who he had replaced as the ODI captain only months ago.

Azhar Ali’s stint as the ODI captain didn’t speak much for his abilities as a skipper and didn’t fare too well for the national side either. But it did give him a run in the side long enough to establish himself in the ODI setup – even though he was briefly dropped after the Australia tour.

That prolonged period on the side meant that he was selected again for the Champions Trophy after Kamran Akmal failed to make the most of his opportunity. Azhar Ali has not only played a part in Pakistan winning the second most lucrative ODI trophy in world cricket, he would now look to be a regular in the national team.

While Azhar hasn’t been as convincing as an ODI batsman, he has arguably been Pakistan’s best Test batsman over the past couple of years. Whether opening the batting or playing one down, in the recent past Azhar has been the anchor in the batting lineup that included the recently retired legendary duo of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan.

It was those performances with the bat that, despite his struggles as an ODI skipper, made Azhar a contender for Test leadership.

Sarfraz, meanwhile, also a consistent performer in the Test side, had already proven his credentials as the captain of Pakistan’s T20 and ODI sides, along with Quetta Gladiators – Azhar’s stint with Lahore Qalandars in PSL 1 wasn’t much to write home about either.

Sarfraz with Misbah

That Sarfraz not only ensured a beleaguered Pakistan competed with the best, but actually won the Champions Trophy itself – overpowering some of the topmost sides in the world – meant that whatever little doubt over Sarfraz taking over the Test captaincy had been there, was erased.

Chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq, himself from an old school of cricketing thought, had backed Sarfraz even before his ODI exploits, owing to the simple reason that he preferred the same captain for all three formats.

“It will be very different to ODIs and T20s,” Sarfraz said in an interview with ESPNcricinfo after being confirmed as the Test skipper at an event hosted by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in honour of the Champions Trophy winning squad. “Misbah bhai did so well for so long and he really built the side up, a side that had some great success and was very stable. So it will be a real challenge to follow on from that. And Tests anyway are not easy. You need some serious patience. I will try and do as best as I can. I’ve had some success with the limited-overs captaincy and hope I can do likewise with the Tests.”

Sarfraz with Azhar

It surely will be a challenge, but now that Sarfraz has led Pakistan to the Champions Trophy win – even though limited-overs cricket is a different ball game altogether – he would have the luxury of time on his hands. That his first Test assignment looks to be against Sri Lanka later this year, would also help him, considering the struggles that the Lankans are currently traversing.

Sarfraz, who had been touted as a future Pakistan captain since leading the U-19 side to the World Cup win, has all the leadership skills required. Being a wicketkeeper, he would also be granted more breathing room in case of a lean spell with a bat.

The only real case against Sarfraz, with or without the Champions Trophy win, is the fatigue factor considering the amount of cricket that is played these days. There might even be a case of the T20 captaincy being handed over to someone else in the future, even though Sarfraz himself has only taken it up last year.
If there's one man among the current lot who can fill Misbah's captaincy boots, it's Sarfraz

In his first presser ahead of the Champions Trophy, Sarfraz said Pakistan had “nothing to lose” in the tournament since they were the bottom-ranked side. Barring the first game against India, that’s precisely how Pakistan played in their successful campaign. But with the Test side Sarfraz has a lot “to lose”, as he himself has pointed out.

This is a side that only eight months ago won the ICC Tests. Over the past six years it has been as dominant a side as any in Test cricket, absolutely hammering the very top sides in the UAE and even doing well in difficult away series in New Zealand, England and West Indies.

Filling Misbah’s captaincy boots is perhaps the biggest void Pakistan have had to fill in years. But if there’s one man among the current lot who can do it, it’s Sarfraz.