Even by the standards Pakistan cricket sets itself for chaos, yesterday was a high-water mark. A lengthy meeting at PCB headquarters at the Gaddafi Stadium was followed by a staccato reshuffle, kicked off by Babar Azam's reluctant resignation as Pakistan captain in all formats. Let's take a look at what happened and what it all means for Pakistan cricket.
First things first, why did Babar Azam resign?
Well, some degree of change invariably tends to follow poor ODI World Cup campaigns. When Pakistan failed to make the semi-finals in 2019, head coach Mickey Arthur and batting coach Grant Flower were sent packing. Within a year, Sarfaraz Ahmed was gone as ODI captain.
Pressure had begun to mount on Babar's captaincy, and lingering concerns about his decision-making, particularly when it came to in-game situations, never really went away. When Babar was appointed Pakistan captain, it wasn't for technical astuteness; that was widely believed to be a weak spot in his game. Rather, he was the best batter in the side, and the only guaranteed all-format starter at the time.
He oversaw a poor run of late with the Test side, including home defeats against Australia and England, the latter Pakistan's first ever home whitewash. A home series draw against New Zealand was followed by an impressive 2-0 away win in Sri Lanka, but those were Pakistan's first Test wins in a year. Aside from his first series as captain in January 2021, Babar never oversaw a Test match win at home.
The 2023 Asia Cup was viewed as a disappointment, with Pakistan finishing fourth and, at the 2023 World Cup, they lost five of nine games, including one against Afghanistan, which sent them tumbling out in the first round.
Reluctant resignation, you say?
There is limited evidence Babar truly wanted to step aside. Following Pakistan's final match at the World Cup, he told Michael Atherton at the post-match presentation that he wished to lead the rebuild, and he reiterated that at the press conference. The PCB said it told him yesterday it had decided to remove him as white-ball captain, and offered him the chance to keep the Test captaincy. Babar appears to have seen the writing on the wall after that, and decided to resign across formats.
Wait, this is an interim management committee. Can it really sack a captain?
Almost certainly not. The PCB chairman has the authority to appoint and remove captains, and while Zaka Ashraf is currently performing that duty, he is the head of the PCB management committee on a temporary basis, a role he had extended for three months by the Pakistan caretaker prime minister. A court in Pakistan ruled the committee did not have the power to make significant changes during its tenure, and was to operate only on a caretaker basis.
So to get rid of Babar as captain, it needed Babar to offer his resignation himself. Theoretically, had he refused, he would have remained Pakistan captain in all formats, and the PCB would have no mechanism for removing him.
Well, it would still have one avenue: simply not selecting him. But for obvious cricketing reasons, that always seemed untenable.
So who replaces him? Is it one person across formats?
We know the answer to that is no. The PCB seemed extremely prepared for his resignation, some would say suspiciously so. Within an hour, it appointed Shan Masood, summoned to PCB headquarters in Lahore - even though the committee had ostensibly offered Babar the option to continue as Test captain - as the new Test captain. Shaheen Afridi is the T20I captain. In a moment that perfectly encapsulates the workings of this PCB administration, it also announced Shaheen as ODI captain on social media, before that graphic was swiftly deleted. It later said the ODI captain would be announced "in due course".
You mentioned Mickey Arthur was sacked after the 2019 World Cup. What's his deal now? Is he still with Pakistan cricket?
Well, yes and no. The PCB announced team director Mickey Arthur, as well as head coach Grant Bradburn, have had their roles "reassigned". There is no information on what they have been reassigned to do, but ESPNcricinfo understands this means neither will travel to Australia next month for Pakistan's next assignment, a three-match Test series.
So if coaches won't travel with the team, why not remove them?
Because at this point the board probably can't. It also likely falls outside the scope of what this PCB management committee can do. In the absence of Arthur or Bradburn offering their resignations, as Babar did, the PCB has to keep them on. It is understood that resignations from either are not expected anytime soon.
So who's going to coach in their steads in Australia, then?
Zaka Ashraf met, among others, Mohammad Hafeez on Tuesday, and it seems that meeting went rather well, because he offered him Arthur's job. Hafeez will take over as team director, and it is understood he will go to Australia and New Zealand with the side. Hafeez will also take over as head coach, effectively ending the practice of appointing two separate people as team director and head coach. The practice only started with Mickey Arthur's ascension to team director while grant Bradburn was already in situ.
Well, all this seems quite chaotic. When will we get a PCB administration that is allowed to make actual decisions?
We thought we'd have one by now when Ashraf came into the role, but with Pakistan's caretaker government having stretched its role beyond the constitutionally allotted three months, the caretaker prime minister also handed Ashraf and the management committee a further three months.
That should take us through to February, when Pakistan is due to hold general elections. Any prime minister that emerges out of those will have the authority to nominate a PCB chairman, and once PCB elections are held, a full PCB administration will have all the powers they have traditionally possessed.
What does this mean for Babar, Arthur, Bradburn, Masood and Shaheen?
Simply that any developments that have occurred in the past 24 hours are liable to be reversed. If Najam Sethi returns as chairman in February, a definite possibility, it could mean good news for Arthur and Bradburn. He had made clear his desire that Pakistan hire foreign coaches, and publicly pursued Arthur for months before landing a deal for him to return. He would also have the authority to appoint or remove any captain or coach.
So these changes are only going to be in effect for the tour of Australia?
That, and the following five T20Is in New Zealand, yes. After that, as ever in Pakistan cricket, all bets are off.