Sarfaraz Ahmed is back and he believes the decision to be relieved of the Pakistan captaincy, and later getting axed from the side, actually allowed him a much-needed break so that he could concentrate on getting better.
Pakistan picked a 29-man squad for their England tour for three Tests in August, followed by three T20Is, with the matches taking place behind closed doors as part of unprecedented measures to stay safe from Covid-19.
Ahmed is their second choice wicketkeeper, behind Mohammad Rizwan. He was relieved from the captaincy in October last year after a sustained drop in both his and the team’s form across formats. He also lost his place to Rizwan in all formats, and was demoted from Category A to Category B in the PCB central contracts.
After being dropped, Ahmed went back to first-class cricket and scored a hundred in his tally of 340 runs at 48.57. He wasn’t quite as impressive in the PSL – 148 runs at 21.14 – but Ahmed said it was good that he could keep on playing cricket.
“Obviously it was tough to absorb the fact that I was the captain as well as a regular member and then suddenly, I am nowhere,” Ahmed said. “You do get upset but I couldn’t really dwell on it too much, because I was fortunate that I had domestic cricket there and then came PSL. So most of the time, I remained busy. Then in this free time in the last three months in quarantine, I got time to reflect and improve my fitness to be ready for any expected opportunity.
“When you are captain in any format, it definitely brings a lot of pressure on you and this is why its a big responsibility,” Ahmed said. “When you were playing cricket non-stop without a break, relentlessly, then these breaks really help you. I’ve been talking to [coach] Misbah Bhai and he was urging me to utilize this time to work smartly to improve my fitness and reflect on what I have been doing wrong.
“When you are captain you basically think differently – more about the team than yourself. Your main focus is on the team result and performances, and in all this, you spent more time supporting your players. But now I don’t have that added responsibility and I will be thinking exclusively about how I can play my part as a player in any situation where I am needed. Overall, I realized that this 7-8 months gap away from the national team has helped me rediscover myself as a player.”
Rizwan had been Ahmed’s back-up for a long while. He got a chance to impress ahead of last year’s World Cup, when then-chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq rested several players for a series against Australia in the UAE, and he scored two hundreds to prove his readiness for international cricket. But it wasn’t until the team went through a substantial revamp after the 2019 World Cup that Rizwan was promoted to first-choice wicketkeeper.
Being second in the pecking order, however, isn’t worrying Ahmed. “Fluctuating between number 1 or number 2 in priority has always been a part of the pattern,” Ahmed said. “Even if you recall the time in 1992 and 1996, it was between Moin Khan and Rashid Latif, both coming ahead of each other at different times. So right now Rizwan is playing well for the team and obviously, he is the first choice and I am the back-up.
“It’s not odd at all if your partner is doing well and keeping you out. Obviously I made mistakes which is why I am out, but now I am back in contention and with the team so that is what I am focusing on. What is important for me is that I am also there and will prepare accordingly. I will definitely grab the opportunity and wait for my chance to do well for myself and for the team.”