Coach backs Sarfraz to lead Pakistan at Cricket World Cup

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur says it's time to move on from captain Sarfraz Ahmed's four-match ban for a racial taunt and concentrate on finalizing the team for the Cricket World Cup.

Sarfraz was reaffirmed on Tuesday as captain to the end of the World Cup in July, despite the Pakistan Cricket Board saying its policy was to name the captain on a series-to-series basis.

Pakistan media have questioned the Sarfraz decision, including whether it was a political riposte at the ICC for banning Sarfraz. Private broadcaster Geo News wondered whether the PCB did a U-turn or succumbed to pressure from unnamed quarters.

On the national team's return on Friday from the tour of South Africa, Arthur said PCB chairman Ehsan Mani talked with him and chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq before reappointing Sarfraz as captain.

"We've made that decision because we are very comfortable with Sarfraz leading this team forward," Arthur said in Lahore. "There's clarity, there's no more speculation."

Sarfraz was banned for racially taunting South Africa allrounder Andile Phehlukwayo in an ODI last month in Durban. He returned home and missed the last two one-day internationals and the entire three-match Twenty20 series.

"What he did was wrong and it was worked through," Arthur said. "Saffy took it on the chin, he apologized, he moved forward, everything was handled properly."

Arthur believed Sarfraz's main job is wicketkeeping, and he was not worried about his captain's dip in batting form.

"He (Sarfraz) has dropped eight balls in four and a half months, so he is not out of form in his core job," Arthur said. "I'm not, and I want to reiterate, not worried about Sarfraz Ahmed's (batting) form."

Pakistan lost the test, ODI, and T20 series in South Africa.

While Arthur acknowledged Pakistan needed to improve a lot in test matches, he was disappointed to lose the ODIs 3-2 and the T20s 2-1.

"We thought we were as good as South Africa in those conditions," he said.

Arthur criticized the test pitches as none of the games went to the fifth day. But Arthur said Pakistan was not the only team which has struggled in South Africa.

"I don't think there's any coincidence that no Asian team has won a test series in South Africa," he said. "So we know we've got a lot of work to do with our test side."

He picked out Babar Azam for praise, for becoming the batting mainstay in white-ball cricket.

"South Africa is the toughest place to bat ... to see Babar Azam's development across all formats on this tour was simply amazing and I think was something to be proud," he said.

The South African-born Arthur said he had a pool of about 20 players from which the final 15 will be picked for the Cricket World Cup in England and Wales.

"We're probably ahead of lot of other teams ... we have condensed our pool and now have to finalize it after the Australia tour (in March), so we are pretty much on track."

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More AP Cricket: www.apnews.com/Cricket and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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