Misbah-ul-Haq has been appointed Pakistan's vice-captain, capping a remarkable six-month rise from near-obscurity to one of the country's senior players. As a result, Misbah has also moved into the top category of Pakistan's new central contracts, announced by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) today.
This time last year Misbah wasn't even on the fringes of the national squad, but a surprise call-up for the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa began a dramatic turnaround in fortunes. Heroic performances in the tournament and a fantastic Test series in India subsequently cemented his middle-order spot.
"The board's governing committee decided to appoint Misbah as vice-captain after a very detailed discussion," Nasim Ashraf, chairman PCB, said at a press conference. "He is both a junior and senior player. He has a great relationship with the captain and is very much part of the team's think-tank."
Misbah's appointment will last till December 2008, an attempt to stabilize a post that saw three different candidates in six months last year. It might also be seen as a snub to Younis Khan, who was vice-captain - and stand-in leader - during Pakistan's tour to India. Younis subsequently announced his willingness to lead Pakistan, having turned it down earlier last year and been a reluctant leader in India.
The news is not so good for a couple of other senior players, most notably Shoaib Akhtar, with whom the board has apparently run out of patience. He has been demoted from the top category to a retainership, especially created for players who have suffered from fitness, form and disciplinary problems, but who have represented Pakistan over the last couple of years.
There had been speculation in the days leading up to the announcement that Shoaib would miss out, a result of the manager's report of the India tour, in which both his attitude and fitness were criticised. As such, his demotion to a retainership means he is now in the same boat as players such as Mohammad Hafeez, Imran Nazir, Mohammad Sami, Faisal Iqbal and Yasir Hameed
But Ashraf denied that Shoaib - or any other senior player - had been targeted. "We have a format by which we judge every player, in which things like fitness and discipline are very important. We didn't discuss individuals but a system. Obviously our aim is that every player moves to category A, which means that they are all performing well."
Shahid Afridi and Danish Kaneria also find themselves pushed down after indifferent performances over the last six months, which formed the basis of the new year-long contracts. Abdur Rehman and Sohail Tanvir have been rewarded with their first contracts, as the PCB cut down the number of contracted players from 20 to 15.
The board insists they have applied a formula which takes into account a number of weighted factors, including performance over the last six months, fitness, discipline and seniority. The retention of Mohammad Asif in the top category on this basis will undoubtedly raise questions: injuries have meant he has played only one ODI and two Tests since the last contracts were announced in July 2007.
As well as the three basic categories, another has been created to recognise the achievements of players who have impressed in domestic cricket or are emerging prospects on the fringes of national selection. Category A players will receive a Rs 250,000 (US$4016) monthly retainer, category B players Rs 175,000 (US$2811), category C players Rs 100,000 (US$1606) and category D players Rs 75,000 (US$1204). Retainerships are also of Rs 75,000 a month.
Category A: Shoaib Malik (capt), Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Mohammad Asif, Misbah-ul-Haq
Category B: Kamran Akmal, Salman Butt, Umar Gul, Shahid Afridi, Sohail Tanvir
Category C: Abdur Rehman, Yasir Arafat, Rao Iftikhar Anjum, Danish Kaneria, Fawad Alam
Category D (emerging players): Sarfraz Ahmed, Nasir Jamshed, Afaq Raheem, Khurram Manzoor, Naumanullah, Sohail Khan, Zulfiqar Jan, Wahab Riaz, Shoaib Khan, Samiullah Khan