Whether leaders are born or developed is a debate that has been going on for centuries, and is a debate that will likely never be settled. Many feel that leaders have those natural instincts from a young age and are destined to be at the helm, while others think that leaders mature, are groomed and eventually develop to take on a position of authority.
Sarfraz Ahmed is one of those sportsmen who was destined to be Pakistan’s captain from a young age. It was written in the stars that he would be at the helm of the Pakistan cricket team at some point in his career. A product of the highly competitive Karachi cricket scene, Sarfraz led the Pakistan Under-19 team to a famous victory over India when he was 18. During that tournament, he displayed characteristics that immediately made him an obvious choice as future Pakistan captain.
By the chaotic standards of Pakistan cricket, Sarfraz’s rise to the top has been a sedate affair.
From captaining Pakistan’s junior teams, he moved onto captaining teams in domestic cricket including Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League, before being appointed Pakistan T20I captain in April 2016. Immediately, it was clear that Sarfraz was at ease captaining international cricketers and it wasn’t too long before Sarfraz was chosen (in February this year) to take over as Pakistan’s ODI captain. And if there were any doubts over Sarfraz’s pedigree as a true leader, they were put to bed in dramatic fashion at the Champions Trophy last month.
In true Pakistani style, the knives were already out after one game for Sarfraz after a mauling by India at Edgbaston in the tournament opener. As the critics’ knives sharpened, Sarfraz and coach Mickey Arthur conjured a plan and tactics that turned Pakistan’s fortunes around. A semi-final place would have been unexpected, a place in the final a minor miracle, but for Sarfraz to lead his team to a tournament victory was beyond belief.
The 30-year-old grew in stature during the tournament. In a remarkable transformation, the irritation, the anxiety, the self-doubts were replaced by confidence, innovation and self-belief, culminating in Sarfraz being chosen as the captain of the team of the tournament. It was no fluke and Safraz played a large part in Pakistan’s incredible Champions Trophy victory.
The dramatic rise for Sarfraz did not stop there as on 4th July he was chosen by the Pakistan Cricket Board to take over as Pakistan’s Test captain from the now retired and hugely popular Misbah-ul-Haq. Thus the appointment as Pakistan’s Test captain represents yet another feather in the cap of a humble, determined and hard-working cricketer. Sarfraz, who lists former Pakistan wicket-keeper and captain Moin Khan as a hero, was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and has had to work hard for what he has achieved. His characteristics resemble those of Moin — unorthodox, aggressive, an in-your-face attitude, Sarfraz is not one to take defeat lying down. His never-say-die attitude has won him many admirers around the world including the Quetta Gladiators mentor and cricketing legend Sir Vivian Richards who has praised Sarfraz’s leaderships, skills and man-management abilities.
An intelligent and immensely well-liked individual, Sarfraz is a Hafiz Quran — someone who has memorised every single word of the Quran; this is something he achieved at the age of only 10 years. He has grown up alongside many of the current Pakistan players including Imad Wasim who was recently quoted as saying, “We don’t mind Sarfraz shouting at us, as we know he means well and it’s for the good of the team.” Sarfraz has the respect of the younger players in the Pakistan squad, the players he has grown up alongside and the seniors. It’s the latter who, in the past, have not taken lightly to being led by a younger captain. He is the people’s champion, the boy from the humble background who did well. If he can continue on his positive career trajectory, he will also be that cricketer and role-model that many young cricketers in Pakistan should look to emulate. Sarfraz has been criticised for getting too animated with the younger players, something that he does need to work on and improve upon. However, most fans of Pakistan will admit that they would rather see a captain showing passion and aggression on the field rather than a laid-back captain who lets the game take its natural course and is more reactive rather than proactive.
Captaining Pakistan is one of sport’s toughest jobs. It’s a job that has broken the back of many a great cricketer.
It’s a job of which many, quite understandably, steer clear. To captain Pakistan in one format is a tough ask, to captain Pakistan in three formats is not for the faint-hearted. However, based on what Sarfraz has achieved so far as captain, the signs are positive and this could be the start of a golden period for Pakistan cricket.