Responsibility can at times weigh you down tremendously. That is why sometimes great players are unable to adapt to the needs of captaincy. Especially, in the sub-continent where the demands are quite different, it can finish your career quite quickly. In recent years, PCB has grown thicker skin and not every series loss leads to a change in leadership.
Sarfraz was groomed as a leader. The U19 World Cup win in 2006, captaining Karachi; we all know the history. So, when he took over the ODI and T20 captaincy, he took to it almost instantaneously. In that period, Misbah ul Haq and Younus Khan decided retire after the West Indies series. Team Pakistan were going into the series against Sri Lanka without their top two performers under a new captain. PCB could have requested Younus Khan to stay along not allowed such a gaping hole in the batting line up. But they didn’t.
Those expected to take the burden, shrunk under the added pressure. Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, both regressed. Sarfraz himself was now stuck between a rock and a hard place. He built his reputation as an international cricketer as an attacking, punchy street fighter. Now, he was captain of Pakistan. So he moved away from what made him successful. He started working on ‘leaving the ball’ outside off stump. He tried to play like a proper batsman, which he so clearly is not.
Sarfraz, is at his best when he is attacking the bowlers, getting to a decent score before a ball has his name on it. His defensive technique especially outside of Asia is not good enough for him to be able to construct innings. Especially considering he often comes in with the team under pressure having lost 5 wickets for not too many.
In the last 2 test matches, with the pressure removal as captain a real possibly, Sarfraz returned to his ‘natural game’. In these innings, he has showed that Sarfraz is best when playing with liberty. While hitting two boundaries against Philander in his first two balls, he showed intent which he rarely has since becoming captain. It often tentative pokes towards the ball like in the 1st test.
Every batsman has a different way of playing cricket. Some like to bide their time, like Azhar Ali. Other like Virendar Sehwag try to get ahead of the game to get the pressure off and get easier runs as bowler stop trying to test their technique. Sarfraz, is certainly in the latter group. It is quite naïve to think that being the captain he has to show a solid technique and plays hours. It just doesn’t work like that. 50s are not enough to win test matches, and one hopes that Sarfraz could go on to score 100s. But he needs to carry on in this frantic manner to get consistency in his game. A defensive minded Sarfraz is no near as good as an hyper aggressive Sarfraz.
The last tour to South Africa had shown that. The last two tests, have shown that.