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Azhar Ali likely to lose ODI captaincy after 4-1 thumping

Pakistan's ODI record since 2010 under various captains ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Azhar Ali is likely to be removed as Pakistan's ODI captain after his side lost the series in Australia 4-1. Pakistan were beaten in the final ODI in Adelaide, slumping to the same score line they had suffered in England last year, and the PCB is keen to use it as an opportunity to replace Azhar with the T20 captain, Sarfraz Ahmed.

The move, ESPNcricinfo understands, could be the precursor to eventually appointing a single captain for all formats, though any such decision will have to wait until the Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq takes a call on his future.

Leadership issues were discussed in a meeting in Lahore during the fourth ODI of this series by PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq, and Mushtaq Ahmed, the head coach at the National Cricket Academy. They are thought to be united in their belief that Sarfraz should take over the ODI captaincy but will wait until Misbah retires to name a new Test captain.

They differ as to whether Pakistan should move ahead with a single captain, but if they do go down that route it could mean that Azhar is overlooked as the Test successor to Misbah; Azhar is the Test vice-captain and, in Misbah's absence, led Pakistan recently in a Test against New Zealand in Hamilton. It could also mean the end of an experiment begun after the 2015 World Cup, when, for the first time, Pakistan had three different captains - Shahid Afridi was then the T20 captain.

If Azhar is axed, it will end a difficult tenure that began right after the 2015 World Cup. He was not in the squad for that tournament and had, in fact, not featured in an ODI since January 2013. What he did have going for him was a secure position in the Test side, and good form in List A cricket: in the domestic Pentangular Cup that season he was the leading scorer with 302 runs at an average of 60.40 and strike rate of 86.28. In the President's Gold Cup, he scored 234 runs at a strike rate of 86.98.

Under Azhar's leadership, Pakistan's slipped to a record-low ninth in the ODI rankings. They have since risen one place to at least be in the running for direct qualification to the 2019 World Cup, but they only scraped into this year's Champions Trophy. Much of their decline in the limited-overs formats has been building for some time, but it has become much starker under Azhar.

Pakistan have won only five out of ten bilateral series under Azhar, two of them against Zimbabwe, and one each against Ireland, Sri Lanka and West Indies. In all, Pakistan won 12 and lost 18 games.

The PCB has been thinking of removing Azhar for some time. In September last year, following a 4-1 thumping in England, Shaharyar had asked Azhar to consider stepping down. Azhar decided to stay on, however, and led Pakistan to a 3-0 whitewash of West Indies in the UAE. That win left the PCB no choice but to retain him for the Australia tour. A day before the first Test in Brisbane, however, Shaharyar again raised concerns, telling ESPNcricinfo that Azhar's place in the ODI side was on shaky ground and that they were considering replacing him.

Azhar's individual performances have not been poor in that time - he has scored 1152 runs at 37.19. He has expanded his limited-overs game, evident in the improvement of his strike rate. In his first 14 ODIs between 2011 and 2013, his strike rate was 64.84 - during his captaincy that jumped to 79.90. However, that improvement might not be enough to save his place as captain, or even in the side. Last year, Pakistan Super League franchise Lahore Qalanders also removed Azhar from the captaincy.

What the PCB will be weighing up is the potential impact such a move could have on his position in the Test side. He was Pakistan's most prolific batsman last year, scoring a hundred in England, a triple hundred in Dubai and then crowning it off with a double at the MCG in the Boxing Day Test; he scored more runs in a three-Test series in Australia than any Pakistan batsman before him.