“Koi vi masla, paycheeda nai honda.” M. Hafeez
The only person who was surprised at Mohammad Hafeez’s ascension as Pakistan’s T20 captain was his predecessor Misbah ul Haq, not because it wasn’t in the plans, but because it came quicker than he had thought. By all accounts, Misbah took it like a man he is known as. At first, a display of anger (‘I will burn my kit’), but then a composed resolve, to help his friend and his successor, who is affectionately known as ‘chanda’ in his hometown of Sargodha.
In his first press conference after the most significant announcement of his life, Hafeez mentioned everyone who has been associated with the recent resurgence in his career as an integral part of the national team. The only thing he missed was his personal courage and conviction, which closely mirrors that of his close friend, mentor and captain. Both were discarded for long periods of time and drifted in the wilderness of domestic cricket in Pakistan, but the confidence in their abilities and a passion for the game has finally bore fruit.
Today, Hafeez stands on the cusp of the highest honor one can hope to achieve as an international cricketer.
The position of a captain in Pakistan is often ridiculed by the number of ad-hoc captains in the past, but his case is poles apart from the hasty decisions of the past. His journey towards the top job is designed, and if he gets there, it will be well deserved for a man who was not long ago playing club cricket in England.
The rise to the top job is in accordance to the value he brings to the team. Stats say that he was the leading run-scorer in the T20 format for his country this past year, as well as the joint-top wicket taker with Saeed Ajmal. While some argue the timing of the change is ill-suited with the T20 World Cup looming close, but PCB’s decision to select a team full of T20 specialist necessitated a change in leadership. Not only will it help the new leader mould the team according to his vision, but also help establish his authority over relative newcomers. Make no mistake about it; the T20 team will be Hafeez’s team.
It also bodes well for the future of Pakistan cricket, that a recognizable succession plan has been drawn and agreed upon by the incumbent and board officials. With Misbah nearing retirement, it was essential that a vice-captain be named who can be ready to take-over, without disturbing the core and unity of the team when the time comes. “You will be surprised how easy everything fell into place,” was how it was described to me by a top dog. The job was made easier by the fact that the only other competitors are only certain of a place in limited over cricket. With one of them not interested in the job, and the other not respected enough, Hafeez was the only viable choice.
The now clearly planned succession did come before its time, which has led to some people arguing that it will create fissures in the team and will lead to dressing room intrigue and backstabbing, which has been part and parcel of these power games in Pakistan cricket. However, the close camaraderie and deep respect both Captains have for each other, is a clear indication that no amount of media speculation and the elephant in the room stretching his legs will rupture this new found professionalism in the team.
The immediate challenge for Hafeez though is to lead his T20 team to success against Srilanka in the 2 match series. He has all the ingredients required to build a successful team, with the crème of Pakistan’s T20 talent, picked mainly from top performers in the domestic Faysal Bank Super 8 tourney.
If the Professor is relatively successful in the T20 arena, doors are wide open for him to take command in all formats of the game, and that we (apart from Aamir Sohail) would not have expected in our wildest dreams.