• 13 Jan - 19 Jan, 2024
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Shan Masood's recent role as the Test captain of Pakistan stands out as particularly noteworthy in a career marked by numerous transformations and comebacks. His appointment as Babar Azam's successor was surprising on multiple fronts, given that he only returned to the Test side last season after an absence of nearly two years. Additionally, he has registered only one half-century since his return. Earlier in the year, when he was unexpectedly brought back to the ODI side after nearly four years, he was appointed vice-captain but faced exclusion from the playing XI for a few matches amid speculation about a strained relationship with then-captain Babar.
For some, Masood's captaincy appointment is a challenging assignment, especially as he leads a tour of Australia, a formidable task given Pakistan's history of being whitewashed in their last five tours Down Under. Despite the looming challenges, less than 24 hours before the team's departure to Australia, Masood opted not to perceive himself as a mere "sacrificial lamb". The captain shared, "We see it as an opportunity," he said, and as far as being qurbaani ka bakra (sacrificial lamb), the captaincy, playing as a player in the side, these are all temporary things at the end of the day. As long as you are in that place, or seat, you should relish the opportunity, enjoy it and try and take responsibility, and give your best ability to the team."

Humble Beginnings
Despite his sporadic international career, Masood has accrued valuable leadership experience through various avenues. He served as the captain of Multan Sultans in the PSL, took charge of Derbyshire in the T20 Blast, and notably led Yorkshire in the County Championship last season. Under Masood's captaincy, all three of their victories were secured, and he maintained an impressive average of 60 in the seven games he participated in, notching up two centuries and three half-centuries.

Stroke of Serendipity
While Shan Masood may not have revolutionised the traditional approach, it would be unjust to label his captaincy as mere lethargy. Pakistan, in their distinctive manner, may have fortuitously discovered a commendable formula. The selection of Masood as Test captain did not unfold through meticulous strategising; rather, it resembled a spontaneous decision, akin to casting names against a wall and hoping for a harmonious fit.
Comparing the ascension of Babar Azam, when he was appointed to lead Pakistan, it wasn’t on the basis of his strategic brilliance. Rather, it was primarily based on his exceptional performance as the team's standout batter across various formats, solidifying his position without apprehension. Shan Masood's elevation took a divergent trajectory. It wasn't predicated on a guaranteed spot in the team; quite the contrary, as he never held such assurance.
The transition from Babar to Shan being appointed as captain however, could have been smoother considering the fact Babar was placed in this position rather than he himself pushing for it. Having said that, the burden of captaincy had inverse consequences as Babar ‘the batter’ lost the touch of Midas and his captaincy left a lot to be desired. Yet, when it came to appointing the subsequent captain, the rationale exhibited a pleasantly uncomplicated nature: select an individual with genuine leadership prowess. Occasionally, simplicity emerges as the epitome of sophistication.

Snaring the Aussies
Masood wasn't transforming the role, but attributing his efforts merely to going through the motions would be inaccurate. The moment he arrived in Perth, he was actively discussing the strategic approach Pakistan needed against Australia. Despite his composed and non-confrontational demeanor, he has consistently urged his team to adhere to the outlined game plan throughout the series. When Abdullah Shafique and Imam-ul-Haq opted for a more conservative strategy, Shan Masood took a divergent path. Swinging into action on the second ball he faced, he charged down the wicket, elegantly dispatching Nathan Lyon over long-on for a boundary. This move conveyed a message not just to Australia but resonated within his own team.
Granted, it's a daring approach, and some of Masood's dismissals, such as the bold drives in Perth and dancing down the track to Lyon in Melbourne, may appear technically flawed and somewhat audacious, as he openly admitted before the third Test. Yet, for Masood, there's a calculated risk-reward analysis that transcends the superficial aesthetics of his batting style. Examining the two Tests, Masood emerges as a standout performer among his Pakistani counterparts. No other team member has managed to secure two half-centuries.

Tactically Astute
It's challenging to argue against the notion that Pakistan gave Australia a formidable challenge in Melbourne, surpassing the expectations of many. While this achievement doesn't inherently ensure the prolonged efficacy of the adopted strategy, it does reflect a sincere attempt at creative problem-solving – a facet not consistently evident in Pakistan's approach. A noteworthy example occurred when a leg slip was placed for Labuschagne’s dismissal.
Though Masood may not be the individual delivering impassioned speeches in the dressing room, a decade of intermittent involvement with the national side, coupled with experiences in the red-ball and franchise circuits, has acquainted him with diverse ideas and leadership styles.

People’s Captain
Guided by Masood's leadership, Pakistan has placed a premium on refraining from scapegoating individuals. Following a Test where Abdullah Shafique's missed opportunities potentially influenced the result, Masood ensured a protective environment around him. Ahead of the second Test, when the decision was made to replace Sarfaraz Ahmed with Mohammad Rizwan, Masood, upon being questioned, initiated his response by providing a comprehensive defense of Sarfaraz's initial selection in the team.
It's a philosophy he appears to have sworn by. "I believe as a captain, you need to stand up for your players and for their wellbeing," he said and continued, "Sometimes you need to leave cricketing performance to the side. You need to care for and understand your players, on and off the field. Sometimes you have to take such decisions because you can only play 11 players and have 18 in a squad. It's easy to reward a good player or praise them, but how you look after someone who's not playing well or having a rough time is something that's at the forefront of my mind as a captain. It's impossible to be everyone's favourite; there will be people who won't be happy with you, but you do whatever you can."

Future Ahead
Masood is unlikely to amass the widespread support enjoyed by his predecessor Babar, nor will he experience the prolonged, uninterrupted tenure that characterised Misbah-ul-Haq's leadership with the Test side. Predicting the standing of both, Pakistan and Masood when the next Test series unfolds, potentially another 10 months away, poses a considerable challenge. Moreover, with the board's future tied to the general elections in February, a defeat in Australia could potentially result in a change in administration and Masood being replaced.
In the interim, Masood is tackling the captaincy with a methodology reminiscent of his batting style: a constant interplay of fidgeting, tinkering, and contemplation, all aimed at discovering a solution that is inevitable in its revelation. And if this particular approach fails to yield the desired results, be assured that he will unveil yet another stratagem. Such resourcefulness has become a hallmark of his approach.

About the writer
Shahzeb Ali Rizvi is a sports aficionado with a keen eye for the intricacies of cricket and football. He can be reached at [email protected]