An out of favour batsman, who had remained in the shadows for long and was deemed surplus to requirement in the shorter formats, was, out of the blue, asked to lead a side. Not any ordinary side, but a side that was plagued with groups, seniority-juniority prejudices and a quota system that has seeped into our roots. Pakistan Cricket Board gambled on Misbah Ul Haq when they not only brought him back into the Test side, but to the shock of many, made him captain. The gamble succeeded and Misbah went on to become the most successful captain in Pakistan's history, drawing comparisons with Imran Khan. Flash forward five years, it seemed like déjà vu all over again as the board tried to do another Misbah. Azhar Ali, who was previously missing from the ODI squad was not only included, but was also trusted with captaincy.

Naturally, like all other administrative decisions in Pakistan, this decision too was welcomed with skepticism and pessimism. Some criticisms hurled towards the administration were completely justified. Someone whose selection in the team was opposed and out of question, in a matter of months, was trusted with the most daunting task: captaining Pakistan. What had caused the sudden change in opinion? Questions were asked, but few were answered. Regardless of whose choice or fault it was, the general public has, to this day, refused to accept Azhar Ali as the captain, let alone back him.

According to many, Azhar was wrongfully chosen as the captain over other candidates who were more deserving. Names circulating at that time were Muhammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad and, the man who could do no wrong after his fiery spell to Shane Watson, Wahab Riaz. While Muhammad Hafeez has, in the past, led the team, he himself relinquished the authoritative role after Pakistan's exit from the group stage of the 2014 World T20 in Bangladesh. In simpler words, the board had already experimented with Muhammad Hafeez and it failed to produce the ideal results. Ahmed Shehzad, who was being eyed as the long-term savior of Pakistan's batting line-up, struggled with serious consistency and behavior issues. Issues too severe and damaging to be ignored. How was a captain, who was struggling with consistency and behavior issues of his own, bring about a positive change into the team's culture and mindset? Wahab Riaz too, while he is no doubt aggressive in his approach and would have promoted fearless cricket, suffers greatly from consistency issues. His bowling is erratic and he has the tendency to lose his way completely while bowling. Moreover, unlike Hafeez and Shehzad who had previously captained Lahore sides at domestic level, Wahab's leadership skills were untested. Call him a figure among ciphers if you may, but in Azhar, Pakistan Cricket Board went ahead with the safest and maturest option.

Other suggestions that have continued long after the appointment include immediate sacking of Azhar Ali as captain in favour of Shoaib Malik or Muhammad Hafeez and suggestions as bizarre as requesting Misbah to come out of retirement to lead the side once again. Implementation of any such decision would be a step backward rather than foward and merely a short-term solution, if successful. Both Shoaib, 34, and Hafeez, 35, are nearing the end of their illustrious careers after enjoying their peaks and leading Pakistan to invaluable and famous victories, whereas Misbah, 42, has already hung up his boots in the shorter formats and is expected to retire soon from Tests as well. At 31, Azhar is not the youngest either, but he has his best years ahead of him. With the board and public's backing along with the provision of adequate time, Azhar will be able to settle more quickly into his new role and develop himself into a capable leader.

When Lahore Qalandars announced that Azhar Ali would be captaining the side in the inaugural Pakistan Super League, it led towards public outrage and heavy criticism. While I do agree that Azhar is not tailor-made for the shortest format of the game, but once he was picked in the draft, there was hardly anyone else who deserved and needed it more than he did. Domestic matches are supposed to be the grooming ground for young players, potential captains and general experimentation. Pakistan Super League should be used to train and groom players and prepare them for the international arena. Despite his problems with quick scoring and strike-rate issues, Azhar ended up as the 12th highest run-getter in the tournament with 183 runs. Azhar was involved in the third-highest partnership of the tournament, 108, with Chris Gayle and also ended up as the third-highest run-scorer for Lahore Qalandars behind Umar Akmal and Cameron Delport.

More than his performances, his decisions as captain surprised many and evoked criticism. Azhar was criticised for bringing on Zohaib Khan, left-arm offspinner, to bowl the last over against Quetta Gladiators in a must-win game for Qalandars. Lahore, unfortunately, lost the match and the entire blame fell on Azhar Ali. I believe that it is easier to play the blame game than living each moment on the ground. Azhar and Lahore went into the campaign with a second-choice bowling attack: they had to replace Yasir Shah and Mustafizur Rahman, both of whom could have been game changers for Lahore. Moreover, Lahore lost the services of Kevon Cooper midway through the tournament who was called out for having a suspect action, whereas Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo failed to deliver. Ultimately though, Azhar Ali's presence in the team and captaincy were declared as the reasons behind Lahore's weak performances and last-place finish.

Azhar has been labelled as the sole reason behind Pakistan's 9th place in the latest ICC Rankings which is, well, just another unjust statement targeting him. Azhar, since taking over, has played a total of 6 ODI series, winning 3 and losing 3. His first challenge was to overcome Sri Lanka away in order to secure a spot in next year's Champions Trophy, which he successfully did. Losses came against a rapidly rising Bangladesh side, New Zealand and England, but this is what people tend to forget: Pakistan, prior to the dismal World Cup performances, played and lost against Sri Lanka, Australia and New Zealand, under Misbah's captaincy, losses which too have contributed to our current ranking. While Misbah, on those tours, had with him the support and backing of senior players and a relatively stable squad, Azhar played with a completely new, developmental squad that consisted of youngsters such as Sami Aslam, Saad Nasim and Muhammad Rizwan who too were soon discarded.

As if the disliking had not reached its pinnacle by now, Azhar became the ultimate villain when he, initially, opposed the comeback of Muhammad Amir. People all across social media hurled abused towards him and suggested that he step down from captaincy and quit the team because the returning fast bowler was now far more valuable and important to the team than Azhar was. In a matter of weeks, Azhar, his performances, his contributions towards the Test side, his backing of the team through the five darkest years in Pakistan Cricket's history were considered nil. Moreover, Azhar's statement and actions were merely his fault. As the captain of the national ODI squad, the board was morally obligated to take Azhar into confidence and inform him about their future plans for Amir and the team. As a result of the communication barrier, which was mainly the board's fault, Azhar's image was tarnished and he was portrayed as egoistical, unreasonable captain.

I do not believe that Azhar is incapable of making mistakes or being wrong, but I do believe that he has been harshly treated by everyone of us. He was discarded and forcefully turned into a hatable personality the day he became the captain. Azhar's recent performances have shown that he is flexible towards any change in his playing style and willing to work harder to become the batsman and captain that Pakistan desperately requires in the shorter formats. Removing Azhar from the team might bring about short-terms fixes, but at the end of the day when all the Maliks and Misbahs do retire, we will be forced to start looking again, this time from scratch.