Babar Azam steps down as post-World Cup overhaul begins

LAHORE: Pakistan cricket’s overhaul in the aftermath of a disastrous World Cup campaign began in earnest on Wednesday when under-fire skipper Babar Azam quit the national team’s leadership in all three formats, with his replacements named soon afterwards.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) appointed opener Shan Masood as Test captain, gave pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi the T20 reins, and replaced team director Mickey Arthur with former captain Mohammad Hafeez.

The first assignment for the 34-year-old Shan will be a three-Test series in Australia starting next month, while the opening job of Shaheen, 23, will be a five-match T20 series in New Zealand beginning early next year.

After a swift sequence of developments on Wednesday, it seemed the PCB, Babar and Arthur knew in advance what was going to happen.

The PCB had conveyed to Arthur that he and his hand-picked coaching staff’s services would no more be required for the national team and offered them to work at the National Cricket Academy (NCA).

Soon after giving this message, the PCB appointed Hafeez. However, it could not be confirmed whether Arthur had given his consent to work at the NCA.

“Shan Masood has been appointed captain till the end of the ICC World Test Championship 2023-25. Shan’s first assignment as captain will be a three-ma­tch Test series in Australia starting from Dec 14,” the PCB stated in a press release on Wednesday.

“Meanwhile, pacer Shaheen Shah will lead Pakistan men’s team in T20I format and his first assignment as captain will be the five-match T20I series in New Zealand from Jan 12 to 21.”

Later in the another re­le­ase, the PCB stated: “Former Test captain Moha­mmad Hafeez has been given the responsibility of director Pakistan men’s cricket team. Hafeez was recently part of the PCB Cricket Technical Committee.”

The board also announ­ced that the roles of the national team’s coaching staff had been changed.

“The PCB has changed the portfolio of the Pakistan coaching staff. All coaches will continue to work in the NCA while the PCB will announce the new coaching staff in due course for the upcoming series in Australia and New Zealand,” it said.

The decision to revise the national team coaches’ role will, in all probability, put Arthur and his coaching staff in an awkward position and may well compel some, not to accept the offer to work at NCA.

The South Africa-born Arthur, who is already in a coaching contract with Derbyshire, had been functioning as a distant director of the Pakistan team from England. The 55-year-old was appointed to this role by the PCB in April this year.

‘Difficult decision’

Babar, 29, earlier annou­nced on social media that he was quitting as captain “Today, I am stepping down as the captain of Pakistan in all formats. It’s a difficult decision but I feel it is a right time for this call,” Babar said in a statement on his X account.

“I will continue to represent Pakistan as a player in all three formats. I am here to support the new captain and the team with my experience and dedication. I want to express my sincere thanks to the PCB for entrusting me with this significant responsibility.”

The batting star, with 49 Tests, 117 ODIs and 104 T20 Internationals under his belt, added.“I vividly remember the moment when I received the call from PCB to lead Pakistan in 2019. Over the past four years, I’ve experienced many highs and lows on and off the field, but I who­l­eheartedly and passionately aimed to maintain Pa­k­istan’s pride and res­pect in the cricket world.

“Reaching the No. 1 spot in the white-ball format was a result of the collective efforts of players, coaches, and management but I’d like to express my gratitude to passionate Pakistan fans for their unwavering support during this journey.”

The Lahore-born Babar led Pakistan in 20 Tests, winning ten, losing six and drawing four. In 43 ODIs under his leadership, the team clinched 26, losing 16 with one no result.

In T20 format, he led the country to the 2021 World Cup semi-final and a runners-up finish a year later in Australia. In 71 T20 Internationals, he enjoyed 41 victories, losing 23 with seven games ending in no result.

Babar;s captaincy had been put in sharp focus dur­ing the ongoing World Cup where he scored 320 runs at an average of 40.00.

However, he could not pro­duce any match-winning performance as Pak­is­tan finished a poor fifth in the 10-team showpiece.

The PCB in a press statement, which was issued a couple of hours after Babar’s statement, said it would support the player’s decision.

“PCB Chairman Manag­e­ment Committee Zaka Ash­raf and Babar Azam met at the PCB headquarters in Lahore today and had a cordial meeting to discuss various aspects and the World Cup performance. Babar was asked to continue as Test captain, while he has been relieved of captaincy in white-ball cricket for him to focus on one format. After consultation with his family, Babar decided to step down and PCB stands behind his decision,” read the PCB statement.

“The PCB respects his decision and continues to support him as a player.”

Zaka also lauded Babar who faced scathing criticism from fans and experts over Pakistan team’s underwhelming run in the World Cup and the Asia Cup that preceded the global event.

“Babar is truly a world-class player and we want him to continue to thrive as a player. He is one of the best batters Pakistan has ever produced. He is our asset, and we will continue to support him. His batting prowess is a testament to his dedication and skill. He is a role model for the present generation,” Zaka was quoted as saying.

“We want to see him grow as a great batter and now without his additional burden of the captaincy, he can focus more on his performances to reach even greater heights.”

Later on Wednesday, it emerged that former Pakistan all-rounder Sohail Tanvir was named as junior chief selector by the PCB while sources said former Test pacer Wahab Riaz was being considered for the role of senior team’s chief selector.

The posts of senior and junior chief selectors had fallen vacant after Inzamam-ul-Haq quit both the roles last month after the PCB started an investigation over a potential conflict of interest.

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