The pressures of the Pakistan captaincy are beginning to tell on Sarfraz Ahmed. A disappointing Asia Cup campaign ended on Wednesday night in Abu Dhabi with a loss to Bangladesh, leading a frazzled and overworked Sarfraz to admit to sleepless nights during the tournament.
Besides, an unrelenting workload over the last four years has now sparked discussion among management and selectors about the possibility of resting him at some stage during the upcoming home season.
Pakistan won just two games in the tournament, were thumped twice by India and decisively beaten by Bangladesh in the Super Four stage. Sarfraz’s own showing with the bat was a continuation of the patchy form of the last two years.
Since the high-water mark of his ODI batting in the summer of 2016 in England, he has tapered off and is now in a bona fide slump: since his match-winning fifty against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy, he has averaged 17.2 with the bat. His position in the order is not settled – that summer in England he batted at No. 5, a position he has batted at just once since then. In the Asia Cup, he batted at Nos. 4, 5 and 6.
His captaincy, in some selections and on the field, has suffered and though his glovework was mostly tidy, it has been affected in the past.
“Look, the pressures of captaincy are always there,” he admitted after Pakistan’s defeat on Wednesday night, in what was an unusually – for him – testy press conference. “Pakistani captains, whoever they are, always have pressure. Obviously, when you aren’t performing and the team is losing then there is more pressure.
“The truth is that if I say I haven’t slept for the last six nights nobody will believe me but… this is part of life and it will go on. I will say again we don’t need to press the panic button.”
The results, and probably Sarfraz’s workload, have contributed to the sleeplessness no doubt. Since September 2014, around the time he was becoming a permanent fixture in all three formats, only Joe Root and Virat Kohli have played more international games than him. He has missed only one series – the ODIs in Australia in early 2017 – in that time and that too because his mother was ill.
Since he became captain, Pakistan have also not been picking a replacement wicketkeeper in their squads, meaning Sarfraz has had to play even warm-up matches. That may now change. ESPNcricinfo understands that Sarfraz could be rested at some point during the two home series against Australia and New Zealand – possibly in the T20Is.
To that end, Mohammad Rizwan, who is in the Pakistan A team to face Australia next week, will likely stay on as a back-up through the season. Mohammad Hasan, another wicketkeeper, could also be called up as cover for Rizwan for the Pakistan A games later in the season.
Asked after the Bangladesh game whether he needed a rest, Sarfraz snapped back: “This is not my job, this is the job of the selection committee and the PCB. Let them decide. I gave you an answer, it is not my job. My job is to play, I will play. I will keep playing.”