ricket had always been a “Gentlemen’s Game”. Dressed in white attire and floppy hats, the cricketers of pre-Kerry Packer era were true embodiment of a gentlemanly image. Looking back at the Pakistani cricketers the name that stands out in my mind is none other than that of Majid Khan, who never waited for the umpires’ decision and walked straight to pavilion after edging the ball in the wicketkeepers’ gloves.
Majid Khan had a great rivalry with the bowlers like Dennis Lilly and Jeff Thomson but Majid the ‘gentleman of cricket’ never lost his focus and replied these fearsome bowlers with his majestic batting.
With the addition of more colour, money and replays, the game of gentlemen tends to lose its flavor. The batsmen now wait in the ground for confirmation of no-balls and take chances with reviews to save their chancy innings.
The ICC chief executive David Richardson while discussing the racial slur against South African batsman Andile Phehlukwayo said that the very spirit of cricket is under fire and ICC is taking necessary steps to preserve this spirit. Richardson said that spirit of cricket is something unique to the game and something that we need to protect.
Sledging in cricket and other sports is a common phenomenon but what the players and specially the captain of a national team, needs to understand is the difference between ordinary sledging and personal and racial remarks.
Sarfraz Ahmed is a gentleman by nature. Sarfraz came to cricketing limelight during ICC under-19 World Cup 2006 where he led the Pakistan team. Poor form of Kamran Akmal with both bat and gloves provided Sarfraz with a chance of making a permanent place in Pakistan cricket during the one-day series against arch-rivals India in 2007.
Sarfraz made his Test debut against Australia in Hobart in 2010 and after Misbah’s retirement from ODI format in 2015. Sarfraz was thus crowned as his successor with a brief stint of Azhar Ali as captain in between. Sarfraz enjoyed unprecedented success as T20 captain. Under his captaincy, Pakistan whitewashed West Indies in 2016 and won 11 consecutive T20 series thus emerging as number one T20 team in the world.
According to many cricket experts, Sarfraz has been over-burdened with captaincy responsibilities when entrusted to lead the Pakistan Test team against Sri Lanka in 2017. Sri Lanka defeated Pakistan 2-0 during the series. The pressure of captaincy has certainly affected the recent performance of Sarfraz with both bat and gloves, which became very apparent during the ongoing series against South Africa.
I will not blame Sarfraz, who has tried his level best to shoulder the responsibility entrusted upon him by the cricket board to lead the team in all three formats of the game. However, realistically speaking PCB has made Sarfraz an scapegoat in the absence of a succession plan after Misbah’s retirement from Test cricket.
The poor planning by PCB to find an able successor as the leader of the national team is a clear reflection of ad-hocism in our sports system. Despite outright support of PCB and different senior cricketers, Sarfraz is under fire from the journalist community, cricket fans and ICC, who think that time has come for him to either take a break from Test cricket format as captain or improve his performance with both bat and gloves. As a captain Sarfraz has to lead from the front when chips are down and show exemplary discipline and character both on and off the field.
Leading Pakistan is a huge responsibility and if Pakistan has to bank upon the leadership traits of Sarfraz during 2019 World Cup in England, the gentleman has to raise the bar and provide an answer to his critiques with both his performance and conduct on and off the field.