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Writing on the wall for Babar Azam?

Captain Pakistan cricket team Babar Azam attends a practice session ahead of their 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match against South Africa at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on October 26, 2023. —AFP

KARACHI: Just a few weeks back, Pakistan’s cricket chiefs were celebrating the national team’s rise to No.1 in the One-day International rankings.

On Thursday, following a poor run in the ongoing World Cup, they seem to have deserted the team, almost like a sinking ship. And the indication that the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has started to distance itself from Babar Azam and his under-performing team, ironically came in the form of a media release, which was supposed to show support to them. It did anything but.

The media release stated: “The PCB acknowledges the emotions and sentiments of cricket fans following the three consecutive defeats faced by the national team in the ICC World Cup 2023. In this challenging environment, the board administration hopes that the cricketing fraternity and fans will continue to support captain Babar Azam and the entire Pakistan cricket team.”

It sounded like a typical statement showing support to an embattled captain and his team which has lost three consecutive games against arch-rivals India, Afghanistan and Australia. Though Pakistan seem down and almost out, they still have a chance to qualify for the semi-finals, something that was aptly highlighted in the media release.

“The national team still has four crucial matches remaining in the round-robin stage, and the PCB is optimistic that the team will regroup, overcome the setbacks and perform positively and effectively in the upcoming fixtures.”

But the way Pakistan have played and lost their last three games makes it clear that their chances of reaching the last-four are quite bleak. The team’s failure to qualify for the semis will make things even worse for Babar and team as well as for the PCB bosses.

That’s why the Board tried to make it clear that Babar and chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq (who is also a target of intense criticism and not without reason) were given a free hand. “Addressing the media scrutiny directed at captain Babar Azam and the team management, the board’s stance, echoing that of former cricketers, is that successes and defeats are part of the game. Captain Babar Azam and Chief Selector Inzamam-ul-Haq were given freedom and support in forming the squad for the ICC World Cup 2023,” the Board said.

It should be read as: “the failure of Babar as captain and Inzamam as chief selectors are theirs and theirs alone and that the Board has nothing to do with it.” The Board concluded by promising that due action will be taken against the men responsible for the World Cup debacle (in case Pakistan failed to qualify for the semi-finals), though not in as many words.

“Looking ahead, the board will make decisions in the best interest of Pakistan cricket based on the team’s performances in the World Cup. At present, the PCB encourages fans, former players and stakeholders to rally behind the team as they strive to make a triumphant comeback in the mega-event,” it stressed.

The media release issued by PCB couldn’t have come at a worse time. Pakistan are to meet South Africa in a must-win game on Friday in Chennai and the already beleaguered Babar and his men could have been left alone, at least till their World Cup fate is decided. Once that part was over, PCB could have then begun its face-saving exercise.

Originally published in The News

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