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Sadiq Speaks: Sarfaraz Ahmed, the street-fighter from Karachi

*Saj Sadiq is a cricket writer who writes for outlets such as Sky Sports, The Cricket Paper and is also the Editor of the Pakistan cricket website PakPassion.*
— 10 November 2017

SAJ SADIQ PROFILES PAKISTAN ALL-ROUNDER SARAFARZ AHMED, THE GUTSY STREET-FIGHTER FROM KARACHI

By Saj Sadiq

When a proud Misbah-ul-Haq walked off the field for the final time as captain of the Pakistan Test team in May of this year in the West Indies, he left behind an impressive legacy of success achieved against what appeared to be insurmountable odds.

  • When Misbah took over as skipper in 2010, Pakistan was a team which was unable to play international cricket at home, due to the tragic incident in Lahore a year earlier and with its reputation in tatters in the aftermath of a hugely damaging ‘spot-fixing’ scandal.

    Misbah was tasked with not only uniting the team but also rebuilding the image of a team which was hitherto known for a scintillating brand of cricket together with its inconsistency. In seven years of Misbah’s guardianship, Pakistan were to rise from the ashes and reach the zenith as they experienced the top Test ranking in September 2016.

    Whilst Misbah was busy taking his side to top in the Test format, Pakistan’s less than ideal record in the shorter forms of the game was causing concern to the Pakistan Cricket Board. The need was for a captain for the One-Day and Twenty20 teams who could help turnaround the sagging fortunes of the team.

  • Pakistan initially chose Azhar Ali for the job as One-Day Captain but given his poor record at the helm decided to hand over the captaincy to Pakistan wicket-keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed. Described back in 2014 as ‘Oxygen for the team’ by none other than Misbah himself, Sarfaraz had been marked as a candidate to lead Pakistan teams from an early age.

    In 2006, as the captain of the Pakistan Under-19 team, Sarfaraz Ahmed had captured the hearts of his countrymen as he led his side to win the ICC’s Under-19 World Cup trophy with a memorable victory in the final against their arch-rival India.

    His credentials as Pakistan captain were never in doubt, but first he had to establish himself in the Pakistan teams which he did with great gusto. With some gritty Test performances such as the one against Sri Lanka where he scored 103 or the one against Australia where his 109 was instrumental in inflicting a 221-run defeat on a powerful Australian side in the UAE, Sarfaraz soon established himself in the middle-order of the Pakistan line-up.

  • Supporters gather around the vehicle carrying Pakistan 's cricket captain Sarfaraz Ahmed upon his arrival from London in Karachi on June 20, 2017, after Pakistan's victory in the International Cricket Championship (ICC) Champions Trophy final against India.
  • With his reputation as a gutsy street-fighter from Karachi, who had no compunctions in telling off his teammates on the field if they stepped out of line or showed a lack of urgency, the case for his captaincy became stronger and stronger. His brand of aggression seemed to be the perfect answer to the requirements of the modern game and as a consequence, his elevation to the position of captain for both One-Day and Twenty20 sides was a mere formality, especially given the absence of other suitable candidates.

    The English summer of 2017 is one that many Pakistan supporters will remember with fondness and it was a time which finally lifted Sarfaraz to the level of a household name. It was the Champions Trophy victory achieved when most pundits gave Pakistan little or no chance of progressing past the group stages, that was to add yet another feather to Sarfaraz’s cap. His leadership to take his team to the victory podium at The Oval after a spirit-sapping loss to India in the opening game of the tournament will always be considered a stroke of genius and one that has endeared him to fans of cricket around the world.

    Those living in Yorkshire would have had a chance to see the Pakistan captain in action at Emerald Headingley Stadium later in the summer as a replacement for Peter Handscomb in the NatWest T20 Blast. Unfortunately, he was unable to stay the course of his contract due to international commitments, but the effect of his presence in the local Asian community was thrilling to see as throngs showed up to watch him play during the tournament.

  • Pakistan captain and Yorkshire County Cricket Club player Sarfaraz Ahmed is presented to fans by Yorkshire at the Bradford Park Avenue ground.
  • Sarfaraz Ahmed’s determination to succeed and his leadership qualities were also the reason for his appointment as Pakistan’s Test captain to succeed the hugely successful Misbah-ul-Haq. The victorious summer in England, followed by victory at home in a historic series against the World XI seemed to be the perfect precursor further success for the newly appointed Test captain as he went into his debut series against Sri Lanka in the UAE, but the results were far from ideal.

    Pakistan suffered embarrassing defeats in both Test matches of the series which must have been a sobering reminder for Sarfaraz that top-level cricket has ups and downs too. Whilst normal services resumed for Pakistan under Sarfaraz’s leadership as they whitewashed the hapless Sri Lanka ODI and T20I sides in back-to-back series victories, the lessons of a disappointing Test campaign were not lost on Sarfaraz.

    His next assignment as captain of the Test side is set for May 2018 as Pakistan take on Ireland at home in a historic series. Ireland may be playing their first Test match but Sarfaraz will know that he has to demonstrate his resilience and ability to learn lessons from his previous experience to prove his credentials in this form of the game as well.

  • When Pakistan then arrive in England to play a short two-match Test series against England, it is expected that a much more mature Sarfaraz Ahmed will be at the helm of his side. The second and final Test of the series to be played at Emerald Headingley Stadium between 1st and 5th June in 2018 promises to be a tense and interesting affair, especially given the short series being played.

    If Sarfaraz’s grit and determination in the manner he has lead his team so far is any guide, the audience at Headingley can expect a tough and hard-fought contest between two keenly competitive sides where no quarter will be asked for, nor given. Sarfaraz lifted a trophy in England 2017 against all the odds and come June 2018, he could well do the same again, in front of a packed house at Headingley.

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