Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise Lahore Qalandars have removed Pakistan ODI captain Azhar Ali from the captaincy, but retained him in the side. Azhar is likely to be succeeded by Brendon McCullum, whom Qalandars are set to pick in the draft to be held in Dubai on October 19.
Qalandars will get the first pick in every round of the draft for the second edition of the PSL as the team finished at the bottom in the inaugural edition earlier this year. Given this advantage, Qalandars have decided to snap McCullum from the top Platinum category and name him captain. The former New Zealand captain will also act as a mentor for the team.
"We are bringing in McCullum, whose credibility and performances as captain are tremendous," said Aqib Javed, the franchise's director of cricket operations. "We are signing him not only as captain but as a batting mentor as well. We are announcing it earlier because we want to take the captain on board so that we can make a better combination than the one we had last year. We are really happy to have him on board and the level of commitment he has shown so far is really great."
Qalandars were arguably the most explosive batting side in the competition last year, boasting Chris Gayle, Umar Akmal, Cameron Deport and Dwayne Bravo, but only managed to win two out of eight games. Azhar's captaincy position was called into question in the immediate aftermath of the tournament, but the official announcement came only on September 22, weeks before the second PSL draft. The franchise had already revamped their working executive, bringing in former fast bowler Aqib as director cricket operations and Muddasir Nazar as consultant.
In last year's draft, Azhar was relegated from the Diamond category to the Gold category, and then from Gold to Silver, before Qalandars eventually picked him up. Commenting on Azhar losing the captaincy, Aqib said that he had leadership qualities but added that McCullum was a "much better choice".
"Azhar is a great human being and does have the leadership qualities, but you can't compare him with Brendon at all," he said. "There is no comparison between the two players. Last year, unfortunately, we didn't do well and now we want to make a winning combination. With Brendon on board, we want to start planning much earlier to make a difference. This won't hamper Azhar's national captaincy at all, but Brendon was a much better choice."
Azhar's ODI captaincy has also come under increased scrutiny after a tough 17 months during which Pakistan slipped to ninth place in the rankings with 86 points, their lowest ever rating since the ranking system was introduced in 2001. In the eight series with Azhar at the helm, Pakistan have beaten only Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and Ireland. After Pakistan's 4-1 defeat to England in August-September, PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan asked Azhar to consider relinquishing the captaincy, but Azhar decided not to step down. With Shaharyar currently in London, recuperating after a heart surgery, the status quo has been maintained for Pakistan's forthcoming ODI series against West Indies in the UAE.