The Pakistan cricket team began their ODI World Cup 2023 campaign with an 81-run win against the Netherlands at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad. Subsequently, they chased down 345 against Sri Lanka at the same venue, which is a record for the highest total successfully chased in the Men’s ODI World Cup. Since then, though, it has been all downhill for the Pakistan team. They have lost four matches in a row and have slipped to the second half in the points table.
A seven-wicket loss to arch-rivals India in Ahmedabad was followed by a 62-run defeat to Australia in Bengaluru. Pakistan were then stunned by Afghanistan by eight wickets in Chennai. They came close to ending their losing streak when they faced South Africa in Chennai but ended up suffering a heartbreaking one-wicket loss.
With four defeats in a row, Pakistan’s chances of qualifying for the semi-finals look very slim. With every loss, the pressure on skipper Babar Azam, as well as his criticism, has grown. And while cricket is a team game, the captain is the leader of the ship. In that sense, Babar has been a failure and perhaps the worst of all captains in the 2023 World Cup.
No control over team
First things first, the captain should enjoy the confidence of the team and command the respect of his players. On social media, things look rather hunky-dory, but on the field, a different picture is painted. This is not to say that various rumours of infighting and all not being good in the Pakistan team are true. But, from the outside, one thing is perceptibly clear. Babar does not seem to have that control over the team that a leader must possess.
It is not to say that a captain must dictate terms completely. He can, of course, seek help from seniors, but the assertiveness that a good leader brings along is clearly missing in Babar’s leadership. It is all okay when the team is winning, but captaincy skills are tested when the team hits a rough patch. And in that terms, Babar has clearly been found wanting as a leader. He has hardly been seen encouraging his team when the players have been down. The communication, too, seems to be missing, with players going through the motions.
The loss to Afghanistan pretty much exposed Babar’s weaknesses as an international captain. He did precious little to boost the team even as nothing was going their way. Instead, players were seen having a go at each other, and Babar could do nothing to stop the in-game squabbles. It all looked rather shoddy as Pakistan players pointed fingers at each other over misfields, overthrows and conceding close runs. The cameras often panned to Babar during this phase. Dejection and cluelessness were writ large on his face, but he was pretty much a mute spectator, doing nothing much to stop what was going on. You expect much better from a captain, that too of a top international side.
World Cup 2023 has also exposed Babar’s lack of tactical skills as a captain. His bowling changes against Afghanistan were bizarre, to say the least. Babar allowed Afghanistan to ease to victory by bowling his spinners at a time when he should have attacked with his fast bowlers in, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Haris Rauf. By the time the pacers returned, it was too late, as only the formalities remained. As it is, Pakistan’s bowling was lackadaisical against Afghanistan. Babar’s illogical captaincy only made things worse for the team.
Babar’s tendency to bowl left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz in the end overs when the game is on the line is also something bizarre. If you look at the bowler’s record at the death, he was hit for a six by Hardik Pandya in the 2022 Asia Cup match, a stroke that clinched victory for India. Nawaz also bowled the last over, conceding 16 runs as Virat Kohli scripted India’s famous win at the MCG in the 2022 World Cup clash. Yet, Babar again turned to Nawaz in the 48th over against South Africa. The bowler conceded a four as Proteas registered a one-wicket win. No surprises there.
Feeling the pressure while batting
Apart from feeling the pressure of captaining the team, leadership is definitely affecting Babar’s batting as well. His struggles in a number of big tournaments prove it. Babar fared miserably with the bat in the 2022 Asia Cup, scoring only 68 runs in six matches. He had a poor time in the 2022 T20 World Cup in Australia as well, even though Pakistan fought back well to reach the final. The right-handed batter scored only 124 runs from seven matches at an average of 17.71. Babar clearly failed to inspire the team with the bat in the two tournaments.
If we talk about the 2023 World Cup, he has scored three half-centuries in six innings, but those have not come in convincing fashion. None of the three fifties have been scored at a strike rate of around 100, which is more or less a norm now in one-day cricket. Babar’s 50 came off 58 balls against India. Against Afghanistan, he scored 74, but that too came off 92 balls, which can be considered a rather slow effort. Against South Africa, he scored 50 off 65 balls. Babar is not dominating bowlers like Quinton de Kock or Virat Kohli, who are striking at 117 and 90, respectively.
There is no doubt about the talent of Babar as a batter, but if leadership is affecting his main skill, it would be better for Pakistan cricket that the responsibility is taken away from him. After all, Pakistan needs Babar, the batter, more than Babar, the captain, going ahead. Be it in the field or with the bat in hand, Babar has struggled in both aspects. It’s no surprise that his leadership after the 2023 World Cup is on the line.