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Can Azhar Ali rescue Pakistan (and the ICC)?

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Azhar_Ali_Pakistan_cricketAfter Misbah’s heroics in the test series and Pakistan’s preceding Asian dominance, it seems logical to probe into Azhar Ali’s suitability as ODI skipper. However, Azhar is unlikely to have the same influence in ODI’s that Misbah has had in Tests. Far from being a messiah, Azhar Ali may have to be replaced as ODI captain to give Pakistan their best chance of directly qualifying for the World Cup.

But hold on. I must ask you one thing. Are you a fan of disorder and social entropy?

Isn’t it absolutely hilarious when things completely break down and chaos reigns supreme? Those in charge, those who pioneer an inherently flawed strategy, are gradually, but surely, rendered powerless by the very plan they thought would work in their favour.

That is the comical situation the ICC faces if Pakistan fails to directly qualify for the 10-team tournament that they want to call World Cup 2019. It’s between Pakistan and West Indies for that coveted 8th and final automatic qualifying slot. The team that misses out will have to make it to the top two in the 2018 WC Qualifiers featuring Ireland, Afghanistan & Zimbabwe amongst others.

The absence of Pakistan and the resulting absence of an India-Pakistan game would make the World Cup less attractive in the eyes of spectators – Asian or otherwise – as well as those who bankroll the sport.

However, Pakistan and Azhar Ali have a golden opportunity to save the ICC’s blushes in a 3 match ODI series against the West Indies. If they pull off a 3-0 whitewash against their Caribbean competitors, they will jump into eighth place with 89 points, ahead of West Indies on 88. A series loss may well seal their fate, with a tough assignment of 5 ODIs down under against Australia as well as 3 Champions Trophy games next year against arguably stronger opposition.

 

But what makes Azhar Ali so unfit for the role of skipper? Unlike Sarfraz Ahmed, who led Pakistan to their biggest T20 win, Azhar has the distinction of leading Pakistan to their most embarrassing ODI defeat. 444 could and should have been avoided. Saving Mohammad Nawaz for the death when he was in the midst of an amazing spell, allowing Wahab to complete his quota, using himself and Shoaib Malik for four overs that cost Pakistan 64 runs, and not placing deep fine leg on the boundary for Jos Buttler; these are just some of the errors that have encapsulated Azhar’s horrid time as skipper.

On the other hand, there is some good news for Azhar the batsman. While he clearly won’t reach the heights of Kohli, Root, Smith, or AB, who else is banging on the door? It’s hard to imagine Ahmed Shehzad or Hafeez, who strike in the low 70’s, being much quicker. Sharjeel still has to prove he can be destructive for sustained periods. He barely lasts 25 balls on average, which is beefed up by his assault on Ireland. As defeatist as it sounds, Azhar Ali, a one-day misfit, is Pakistan’s best option as opener.

He is up against it, with rumours surfacing that he was about to announce his resignation as captain. Those apparent rumors have been put to rest for now, but an impressive T20I series against the Caribbean Kings, who have shown a weakness against spin, could provide Pakistan with the evidence they need to appoint Sarfraz as the rightful captain for the West Indies ODIs and beyond. If the change is not made right now, there is every chance that Azhar could seal Pakistan’s fate and force the ICC to look into allowing more teams into the World Cup.  

It would be a hilarious way to reverse the nonsensical reduction in teams at a time when smaller nations are stronger than ever before. The stakes could not be any higher for Pakistan and the West Indies. The stakes could not be any higher for the ICC and world cricket. However, it is the potential level of disorder in a seemingly organized system that compels this me to tune in. It could be a disaster. It could be chaotic. But that’s the way I like it.

 

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Jay Dansinghani is a freelance writer, researcher, and author based in Hong Kong. Jay got into deep...

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