KARACHI: The hardest part, Sarfraz Ahmed might reasonably think, is over. Becoming Pakistan’s limited-overs captain always loomed as the greater challenge, given the depths to which they have fallen there. But he’s come through that with flying colours, the Champions Trophy win the icing on a captaincy record that currently reads 14 wins from 17 matches (ODIs and T20s).
Taking over the Test captaincy, by comparison, should be easier, given it is a more successful, settled side. Except that it is here that expectations will be highest-Sarfraz, after all, has the shoes of Misbah-ul-Haq to fill, Pakistan’s most successful and longest-serving Test captain.
“It will be very different to ODIs and T20s,” Sarfraz told. “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.”
The exits of Misbah himself, and his middle-order comrade Younus Khan, mean that Sarfraz will effectively be overseeing as big a transition as Pakistan have faced in Tests since 2010. Their retirement leaves the side considerably less stable and identifiable than it had hitherto been, a quandary Sarfraz recognises.
“If you look at the Test side right now, there are only 4 or 5 players settled in the XI,” Sarfraz said. “Asad Shafiq, Azhar Ali, myself, Yasir Shah and now Amir. In the middle we used to have Misbah and Younus with whom we knew, whatever position we were in, they could get us out of it. If you batted first, you knew with them that we could target 400. That gave a sense of comfort. Now we have players coming in, like Babar Azam. Asad will move up the order in Tests now. Azhar will be there. These guys are the type of guys I hope, I feel, can take Pakistan along like Misbah and Younus used to.”
As the schedule currently stands, it will be some time before he really gets a chance to build the Test side. To the bounty of 2016-17-they played 15 Tests between July 2016 and May 2017-comes the drought this season. Pakistan have a Test series against Sri Lanka in October-November this year, and then nothing-for now-until a two-Test tour of England next summer.
Continuity of selection, Sarfraz said, will be the theme even in those limited opportunities. “Whoever we get in to the Test side, we’ll try and take them along for the future and build a team around them. We want to give guys a full opportunity so that they if they tour once, we don’t just drop and forget them.”
The other challenge will be an individual one. Wicketkeeper-batsmen leading their sides across all formats are not that uncommon anymore. But that doesn’t make the role any less burdensome. Sarfraz’s batting has more or less held firm since he established himself in the Test side in early 2014 but his glovework has oscillated: generally unblemished to pace but error-prone to spin.
But, as Sarfraz pointed out, captaincy is something his batting and wicketkeeping have had to accommodate almost from the start of his professional career. “I’m probably one of the only players in Pakistan history who has captained from junior level all the way up,” he said. “I’ve captained at club level, U-19, in every format, at domestic also. “I’ve come step by step. When I became T20 captain, I was vice-captain first. When I became ODI captain, I was vice-captain. Now I’m Test captain, I was vice-captain. So of course this is a challenge but I’m prepared for it. My responsibilities have increased so I will have to work harder on my fitness but I’ve been working hard on the ‘keeping and batting as well.”