Pakistan are likely to announce a captain for the World Cup within the next few days, possibly even before the fourth ODI of the current series against New Zealand scheduled for February 1. Indications, for the moment, lean towards the Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq taking over from Shahid Afridi, the current ODI skipper, for cricket's showpiece event. But the situation remains fluid and Misbah's chances were far greater a few days ago; a comfortable win over New Zealand on Saturday, with a starring role from Afridi, will no doubt impact on the final decision.
The PCB announced a 15-man World Cup squad earlier this month, but much to the surprise of almost everyone, didn't name a skipper for the event. Afridi has been Pakistan's ODI captain over the last year but just before the New Zealand tour began, a number of key players and team management officials raised concerns with the board over his captaincy. The development placed the board in a quandary, between players and the captain, ultimately compelling them to delay the announcement.
Expectedly the decision has been slammed by a number of ex-players, most notably Inzamam-ul-Haq; the broad feeling of discontent doesn't revolve around the personalities as much as the instability inherent in such a situation. The board and the chairman Ijaz Butt, it is believed, have no real issue with Afridi remaining captain, but such are the nature of the concerns the players and team management have, that the board has found itself having to choose sides.
It is understood that players are mostly unhappy with Afridi's regular and very public assessments of his side's performances, mostly when they have been critical. In addition, Afridi's statements to the ICC with reference to the spot-fixing case involving three Pakistani players have also been felt by some players in the current squad to have been incendiary and unnecessary. Though local reports suggested that a group of senior players had thrown their support behind Afridi, players such as Kamran Akmal and Misbah still hold reservations.
The inability of Afridi and vital members of the team management to gel with each other has not helped matters; one important management official is thought to have pushed particularly forcefully for Misbah's elevation to the captaincy over the last few weeks in New Zealand.
The delay has allowed the board chairman to travel to New Zealand to hold discussions with Afridi, senior players and management officials before making a decision. In a meeting before the team departed Butt also advised Afridi to try and improve his interaction with players over the course of the series. These meetings will ultimately decide who is to be appointed.
On paper, Afridi's record as captain is not hugely impressive, with seven wins and 10 losses in 18 games (and one no-result). He averages nearly 36 with the bat in that time, including two hundreds in Sri Lanka, and well over his career numbers. And though the 25-ball 65 against New Zealand in Christchurch on Saturday was his first fifty in 12 ODIs, he has, on five occasions, made scores between 24-49, which given the way Afridi bats and the position he bats at, are often vital hands.
His bowling has not been as incisive, taking only 17 wickets in that span and generally going for runs. But in pushing ODI series against England and South Africa to the final game each time, in overseeing several fightbacks in tough circumstances Afridi would seem to have built up some credit.
Misbah's case for captaincy, on paper, is weaker. He has not been part of the ODI set-up for much of the last year; in fact, he only played two ODIs in 2010 and was dropped midway through the series against South Africa. His often poor strike-rate also works against him, and if Younis Khan is in the playing XI, robs Pakistan of some power in the middle. But he has built up momentum from his Test exploits, where he has been in exceptional form with the bat and has just led Pakistan to a drought-breaking Test series win.