This week, PCB chairman Najam Sethi offered Pakistan skipper Babar Azam conditional backing to continue as all-format captain of the team. The statement subsided ongoing speculation over the role, for now at least – but still not everone is happy.

Babar has been under pressure following a winless streak at home in Tests since 2021, although he led the teams to the semi-final (2021) and final (2022) of the last two T20 World Cups, as well as the final of the 2022 Asia Cup.

Here’s how the entire episode has unfolded so far:

Najam Sethi takes over

In December 2022, Ramiz Raja was sacked as PCB chairman after Pakistan lost 3-0 in a Test series at home to England. Raja gave way to Najam Sethi, heading a 14-man panel, following a notification by the Pakistan PM.

The series loss pressed on existing instability in Pakistan cricket. One of the first steps under the new chair was to appoint a new interim selection committee, sever the contract of existing chief selector Mohammad Waseem, and disband several committees from the previous constitution.

The new interim committee was headed by Shahid Afridi and included three other panellists, including Afridi’s former teammates Abdul Razzaq and Rao Iftikhar Anjum.

Babar no longer first choice?

Speculation began early this year, with reports claiming that all-format captain Babar’s influence could be diluted, and that the leadership could be split following a review. With head coach Saqlain Mushtaq also slated to leave in March, the period signalled significant changes to the entire leadership structure. According to an ESPNcricinfo report, senior officials had indicated their willingness to inform players and coaches that their “status quo” would be challenged.

Vice-captain Shan Masood makes an appearance

Shan Masood, who hadn’t played an ODI in four years at that point, was named the vice-captain of the side for the one-day series against New Zealand at home. Unconfirmed reports claimed that Babar wasn’t aware Masood had been pushed to the role, and when checking with a selector, was told the selection committee itself wasn’t aware.

Afridi, still the interim selector, revealed that neither he nor Babar were consulted before the decision, and that Masood should not have been made vice-captain based on his performances for Derbyshire alone.

Shift of power?

According to reports, Masood made it to the squad, and eventually the XI, after direct intervention from Sethi. That he was elevated to the vice-captaincy in the absence of regular deputy Shadab Khan indicated a clear challenge to Babar’s all-format influence. That it happened at the beginning of a World Cup year led to surprise no less.

Sethi also pursued Mickey Arthur for another stint as Pakistan coach, with the highly-rated coach staying in post at Derbyshire but taking up a consultancy role with the PCB, termed by some as an ‘online coach’. In fact, it was said that the decision to promote Masood seemingly came after a discussion between Arthur and Sethi. The administration also reinstated Mark Coles as Pakistan Women’s head coach.

Babar finds support

As speculation grew, Babar seemingly received support from some of his teammates. Reports circled claiming that Shaheen Afridi had been offered the T20I captaincy for the series against Afghanistan, without consulting Babar or Shadab. When the squad is eventually named, neither Shaheen nor Babar were in it.

Shaheen then posted a cryptic photo of him alongside Babar and Mohammad Rizwan, with the Pakistan flag as caption, interpreted as a show of support for Babar.

Amid all the speculation, Babar attended Shan Masood’s wedding the same month.

Sethi confirms Babar to stay for now

The Pakistan Super League came and went. This week, Sethi confirmed that were talks regarding Babar’s captaincy with the selection committee, but clarified that Babar had retained support.

He tweeted that he had consulted two committees – led by Afridi and Haroon Rashid – revealing that it was jointly decided that status quo will be retained.

On Twitter, Babar supporters came out in defence of the skipper, targeting Sethi for questioning Babar’s leadership role in the first place. Posts with hashtags “#BabarAzamisOurRedLine” and “#StayInYourLimitsNajamSethi” trended soon after.

Afridi, though, distanced himself from the discussion, tweeting that Sethi was not referring to him while commenting on Babar’s captaincy – though Afridi was namechecked in Sethi’s first tweet.

What now?

The existing term of the PCB management committee ends in roughly a week’s time. Babar continues to stay at the helm, and will lead the side in a white-ball series against New Zealand.