Babar Azam's ongoing rise to prominence has been further reaffirmed by his appointment as Pakistan's ODI captain, making him the country's white-ball leader. Azam replaces Sarfaraz Ahmed as the captain and caps a meteoric rise over the last year, in which he has been one of the world's leading batsmen across formats. Azhar Ali will continue to lead in Tests while Azam will be the captain in both ODIs as well as T20Is.
Azam was named captain for the 2020-21 season, which begins on July 1 the PCB said, during which Pakistan are scheduled to play nine Tests, six ODIs and 20 T20Is, besides the Asia Cup and the Men's T20 World Cup.
"I want to congratulate Azhar Ali and Babar Azam for getting captaincy extensions," chief selector and head coach Misbah-ul-Haq said on Wednesday when the PCB also announced the annual contracts list. "This is absolutely the right decision as they also require certainty and clarity on their future roles. I am sure they will now start looking to the future and start planning so that they can build sides that can perform at the expected levels."
The decision to anoint Babar with the 50-over leadership ends a sustained period of ambiguity over the leadership of the Pakistan side in ODI cricket. Pakistan, who last played an ODI in September 2019, replaced Sarfaraz as captain for Tests and T20Is a month later, without making a formal announcement concerning ODI cricket. The assumption was Azam would take over the role in that format, too, but over recent weeks there had been speculation Sarfaraz might keep that job.
With this announcement, Azam cements his role as the highest profile cricketer currently in the country, and, crucially, heir apparent to Azhar Ali at Test level. At 35, Azhar is a decade older, and should Azam's personal form and Pakistan's white-ball results maintain a trajectory the board are satisfied by, Pakistan should have a clear successor, a luxury they did not have when Sarfaraz Ahmed's struggles with form necessitated a change of leadership at the top.
It was ODI cricket where Azam got his first international chance, one he grabbed with both hands from the get-go. A half-century on debut against Zimbabwe was followed by a string of steady scores, and he rose to international prominence when he became just the eighth ever player to strike three successive hundreds, all coming in a three-match series against West Indies. That led to a call-up to the Test side, and he has remained an immovable part of all three formats since.
Since Sarfaraz's removal as captain, Pakistan have not yet played an ODI. They were scheduled to do so in the first week of April against Bangladesh in Lahore, but the coronavirus pandemic resulted in its cancellation. Their next scheduled 50-over international, would, under normal circumstances, have come in the Netherlands in July, but that tour, too, has been cancelled. Pakistan may play a Test series in England in July, but Azam might get the chance to lead the 50-overs side out into the field only in October, when Pakistan are scheduled to play against South Africa.