Fresh after a second home-series defeat in two seasons, and with a daunting series in South Africa to come, Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed has admitted that results could eventually force his hand. Defeat to New Zealand on the final day in Abu Dhabi consigned Sarfraz to a fourth loss in seven home Tests, a stark contrast to the seven years that preceded his ascension.
Asked whether there could come a time in South Africa when he reconsiders the Test captaincy, Sarfraz said, “When things like this happen, you do start to think about it.
“But let’s see what happens. The tour of South Africa is a tough one and if you start thinking like this before it then it is not helpful for anyone. If I make mistakes, or it is because of me that the team is losing then I will definitely think about it, and if there is someone better than me to do the Test captaincy, then he should.”
In the background, Mohsin Khan, the head of Pakistan’s cricket committee, has argued publicly that Sarfraz should relinquish the Test captaincy. He has been given no guarantees by the board to stay on as leader, other than on a series-by-series basis. And Pakistan have retained Mohammad Rizwan in the Test squad for South Africa, a wicketkeeping understudy who has recently started getting selected once again, and is also in a rich vein of form with the bat.
As far as facing the music goes, Sarfraz will not be alone. The pressure will be as high on his fellow seniors Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq. Both scored centuries in this Test, but crucially both were out cheaply on the final day. And both had failed to take Pakistan home in their chase of 176 in the first Test in Abu Dhabi.
Neither is under pressure of the axe, but a poor series in South Africa could tip that equation.
“They are both senior players, you can’t drop them,” Sarfraz said. “They scored hundreds and took us out of trouble. That time we needed their hundreds. In the second innings, Azhar was out to a good ball, they did not commit mistakes. But if the batsman is in good form then he has to carry that in both the innings.
“We have that example of Kane Williamson who carried his team’s batting throughout the series. Our batsmen have scored runs, but not consistently. If they played a good and big innings then they did not score big in the next.”
Neither was Sarfraz going to shift the blame onto the coaching staff. Mickey Arthur has been coach during all six of Pakistan’s final-day blowouts since 2016. Grant Flower has been the batting coach since 2014, and the failures of Azhar and Shafiq to progress over the last year, as well as the nature of these collapses, is bound to bring scrutiny on their roles.
“The head coach has his job, the batting coach has his, but it’s the responsibility of the players as well,” Sarfraz said. “Mentally, we have to be strong as a batting unit. The batting pair who play the new ball has to set the momentum because it’s not easy to bat on the fifth day.
“Before the series I had said that it’s the responsibility of the batsmen. The batting coach does his job. He tells them the basic faults and helps them improve their technique. But if the batsman is in form then he has to carry that form.”