On Monday, Pakistan registered their sixth ODI win in a row under Sarfraz’s captaincy in the second ODI vs Sri Lanka. Yet somehow, questions have been raised about his captaincy by the media and fans alike. This is a man who has taken Pakistan from the pits of ODI cricket to victory in the Champions Trophy but he still faces criticism for his attitude and mannerism. Does his attitude have an adverse effect on Pakistan’s performance? Has he performed badly as a captain? Let’s take a look at his record as captain of Pakistan and try to understand the logic behind these claims.
We don’t have a big sample size to pass a verdict on Sarfraz’s captaincy - he has captained Pakistan on only eleven occasions but even that is enough to identify certain patterns. For example, Sarfraz has won the toss five times and has elected to field on four of those occasions. Pakistan failed to chase down the total only once in those four attempts. You don’t need to be Einstein to figure out that Sarfraz prefers to chase. He has already taken Quetta Gladiators to two PSL finals using this method. During both PSLs, Sarfraz inevitably opted to chase almost every time after winning the toss with the Gladiators.
Sarfaraz has taken his team Quetta Gladiators to two PSL finals
His first game as Pakistan captain was against Zimbabwe in 2015, while full-time ODI captaincy was given to him in April 2017. Pakistan often exists in a bubble so it is better to compare Sarfraz’s record with other teams since April 2017. Pakistan have played ten matches, and have won eight and lost two. This means they have the second highest win/loss ratio on the planet since Sarfraz took over.
Win/Loss ratio of teams since April 2017
Pakistan’s biggest criticism over the last decade has been the scoring rate. While the rest of the world has made 300+ scores look like a walk in the park, Pakistan have generally struggled to even bat out their full quota of overs and are often guilty of getting all out. Since Sarfraz took over, Pakistan have only been bowled out once. The scoring rate has gone up but not in a definitive way. Since 7th April 2017 Pakistan have scored at 5.52 runs per over, which is the sixth highest out of the top nine ranked ODI teams.
This is one area where Pakistan can improve under Sarfraz, particularly as he is himself partly responsible for the slow scoring rate. He comes in to bat at number six, which is not suited for him. He is not known for his power hitting hence he is much more suited to playing in the middle overs. Sarfraz’s career strike rate is over a 100 in the middle overs and under a 100 in the last 10 which clearly suggests he should not be coming into bat so late in the innings.
Let’s compare Pakistan’s scoring rate to the other top 9 ranked teams in ODIs since 7th April, 2017:
Scoring Rates of top 9 ranked teams since 7 April 2017
Pakistan have scored 300+ only twice under Sarfraz’s captaincy but at the same time have only conceded 250+ twice. It is no surprise that Pakistan’s bowling is the team’s strength but Sarfraz has faced criticism for his on-field captaincy. That is a bit strange considering how well his bowlers have done.
Looking at the numbers, his attitude hasn’t dampened their spirits - it has motivated them. Pakistan’s economy rate with the bowl is staggering, since April 7th they are the only team among the top 9 that has conceded at under 5 runs per over (4.87 to be precise). Sarfraz is spoilt for choices in the bowling department and he uses them to their maximum ability under the given conditions. Let’s take a look at Pakistan’s bowling compared to other teams in this period (7th April onwards):
Economy Rates of top 9 ranked teams since 7 April 2017
Not only do Pakistan’s bowlers have the best economy rate under Sarfraz, they also have an amazing bowling average. Pakistan have managed to pick up a wicket every 27.25 runs, which is the highest among the top 9 ODI teams. Looking at these numbers, it is evident that so far players have no issues with Sarfraz’s shouting and screaming. It is evident that his bowling captaincy is doing wonders and there is no reason for him to change his approach.
Sarfraz Ahmed shouting at his players
Maybe the fans and media are being harsh - maybe they are looking too much into the past given all the mutinies that have happened against former Pakistan captains. Sarfraz has so far proven himself to be a capable leader, adept at handling both pressure and his players. His true test however will come when results don’t go his way, when frustration creeps in and when players react. How he handles that situation will define him as a leader. For now he is the most suitable choice for ODI captaincy by a country mile.