Azhar Ali set to lose Test captaincy
ESPNcricinfo understands the change is likely to happen as early as Pakistan's upcoming tour of New Zealand in December
Just 12 months after Azhar Ali replaced Sarfaraz Ahmed as Pakistan's Test captain, there could be another change on the way, with increasing murmurs in the executive corridors of the PCB's headquarters about a younger replacement. ESPNcricinfo understands Mohammad Rizwan and current limited-overs captain Babar Azam are at the top of the list of potential replacements for the Test captaincy, with the change likely to happen as early as Pakistan's upcoming tour of New Zealand in December.
The PCB confirmed to ESPNcricinfo that Azhar's annual appraisal is being carried out, and CEO Wasim Khan had already met him. The final decision, however, hasn't been made yet as constitutionally, the prerogative to name or dismiss a captain rests with the PCB chairman - who is due to meet Azhar in the next 10 days.
Babar lies in wait as something of an obvious replacement. He is one of the few Pakistan players guaranteed a place in all three formats, and, as Pakistan's vice-captain in Test, was considered as an eventual replacement for Azhar Ali anyway. Rizwan's stock, meanwhile, has never been higher. After being frozen out of the side for two years while Sarfaraz was Pakistan's first-choice wicketkeeper and captain, Rizwan has firmly established his place, particularly in the Test side. He scored a half-century in his first Test since returning to the side in Australia last year, before returning a Player of the Series performance in a three-Test series in England earlier this year, where he topped the run charts for Pakistan and won high praise for his wicketkeeping abilities. Just last week, he led his T20 franchise, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to the National T20 Cup title, doing his leadership reputation no harm.
Azhar, 35, has struggled for form over the past two years, and found himself in a sustained slump until he scored a hundred in Karachi late last year, followed by a fighting century in a rain-hit draw against England in Southampton in August. The innings looked to have bought him time, though it was notable that his ability as captain was openly questioned by television commentator Wasim Akram - also a member of the PCB cricket committee. "It will hurt the Pakistan team and the cricket lovers in Pakistan," Akram, a former captain had said on Sky Sports. "Winning and losing is part of cricket, but I think our captain missed a trick quite a few times in this game, as far as his leadership is concerned."
Azhar is presently is the most capped player in the Pakistan side with 81 Test matches in a career that started in 2010. He was appointed ODI captain following both Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi's ODI retirements after the 2015 World Cup, when he hadn't been part of Pakistan's ODI plans. Following poor results in England and Australia during his tenure, he was axed from the captaincy in January 2017, but remained in the squad until 2018 before losing his spot to younger players.
He refused an offer to take up Test captaincy in 2017 after Misbah and Younis Khan retired from the longer format, with the PCB deciding to hand over the captaincy in all formats to Sarfaraz. While his limited-overs replacement Babar looks more secure than ever, Azhar's stint as Test captain may well be drawing to a premature close.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent