Monday, May 28, 2012

Hafeez Is the Right Choice, But Timing Was Ill-Logical

The key news for the Greens tour of Sri Lanka is Mohammad Hafeez’s promotion to captaincy in the shortest version of the game. Hafeez who was awarded 3 man-of-the-match awards in this format last year takes over from his domestic teammate Misbah ul Haq who is still hopeful of making it to the team as a player. Misbah led his side to 6 victories in this version of the game in 8 encounters & was the leading run getter for his side in this format with the best part of 800 runs at an average of 38 which is the 5th highest in the world. That is some consistency for a format which encourages inconsistency. The dependable & versatile middle order batsman has struck 26 maximums in this version of the game, just a few short of Afridi who has got 30 in more matches. Misbah also holds the record for the highest individual score in this version of the game by a Pakistan batsmen & also has been one of the better outfielders in the side. It was only as recent as the T20 international in Abu Dhabi on 25th November where he scored 48 unbeaten from 38 deliveries to guide his side across the line to a 5 wicket win. Additionally, Misbah has captained Faisalabad Wolves to 2 domestic Twenty20 finals & has developed a healthy habit of being there at the end to see his side home with 4 unbeaten knocks in the 7 successful run chases his country have been part of when he has been in the side. He was also MOM in the only game his country have chased more than 150, their first game in this format against the Baggy Greens. He has the most aggregate runs by a batter from his country during a single Twenty20 world tournament. One of the first Twenty20 players at any major level to get a 3 figure score as well. If you study the statistics or have a lasting memory there is absolutely no doubt that Misbah has a reputation to pride on in the shortest version of the game, is no stranger to the format & has had many cherishing moments. Considering, all of this was there a need to take away the leadership from him just 4 months before an ICC tournament which every captain dreams of leading their side in? It wouldn’t be wrong to say Misbah has been hard done by here. Deep down surely he is feeling it.

Nevertheless, Hafeez is a deserving, experienced, logical candidate if they were to replace Misbah so there are no real queries about Misbah’s successor, but realistically speaking the change was untimely & unnecessary. To replace Misbah in the shortest version of the game should have been done & could have been done, but surely after the World T20? However, it was not to be.

Misbah was heavily criticised for scoring 28 from 32 deliveries in the 5 run defeat in the decider of the Twenty20 leg of the tour. However, the wicket was ill suited for this format. It was not encouraging stroke making & getting value for your shots. It was a low scoring game. Even KP with his flamboyance was struggling to score with fluency & had to hold back, settling for a half century by carrying the bat through & doing it the ugly way at times. They lost narrowly & spookily as it seemed they had things under control to reach the target & consequently take the series honours, but still with wickets in hand & established batsmen at the crease they were unable to get through. In all 3 matches of this leg of the tour, the side which batted second lost, let it be England or Pakistan with the targets all being 150 or under. Therefore, if we put the emotions aside, there are plenty of reasons one could put forward in defence of Misbah’s unsuccessful effort that evening in Abu Dhabi. In despite of this knock, during the 1st game of this leg of the tour, Misbah did play a crucial rebuilding job, putting on 72 in the final 9 overs with Shoaib Malik for the 6th wicket to get the team to a defendable 140+ score, considering the mouth watering bowling resources they have up their sleeves, this got them back in the game & was a game changing partnership stand.

Advantages of the decision

- Gives an opportunity for grooming a long term future leader, at least in the limited over formats. Gives an opportunity to name a vice captain across all versions of the game.
- Reduces the burden on Misbah of captaining in all versions of the game which in all honesty he did well to cope with, winning all 3 formats in a tour on 3 occasions.
- Hafeez has domestic experience in the job. I distinctly remember him winning the 20/20 event which was arranged on 23rd March 2010 where he led the “A” side to the title, overcoming the national & junior side. Also, Hafeez captained in a 50 over side match on the tour of the West Indies last year where he scored a century in a winning cause.
- In an ideal world you don’t want Misbah in the T20 team because of the age factor more than anything else.

Disadvantages of the decision

- Factions, politics & groupings have occurred in the past when they have named different captains for different formats.
- Hafeez has plenty on his plate when it comes to the 3 disciplines alone, that he will do extremely well to cope with the added burden of handling the media, fathering the camp, planning the strategies, assessing the wickets & ensuring he extracts the best from others members of the team.
- World 20/20 is around the corner, however I want to ensure I am not making a contradiction here because previously I have said on other platforms that I wanted Misbah to lead the team in the 2011 World Cup & thereby changing the captain just before the major spectacle. However, Misbah was already captaining the test team at the time with overwhelming success & had captained his team to the one day title in the previous domestic season, scoring centuries in both the semi final & final. He also had previous outings as Pakistan captain in the limited over format & was regularly a formal vice captain. Therefore, the circumstances are vastly different in comparison to Hafeez who is leading for the first time in any format & hasn’t been vice captain formally in the past or has not captained in the domestic circuit for a while either.
- Nothing is an ideal world in Pakistan cricket where stability makes a world of a difference. Once the team is free from internal problems, the results tend to take care of themselves.

In short, we wish Hafeez well, but if things do not go according to plan one cannot help to think that the PCB have made an untimely blunder to replace Pakistan’s statistically most successful captain across all 3 versions of the game, the first one who really proved it with any degree of sustenance, when they didn’t really need to make the change. Considering how highly they regard Misbah as a captain, ambassador & player it came as a surprise. Former coach Mohsin Khan & former PCB chairman Ijaz Butt have also raised their concerns over the move.

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