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A leaked audio recording has revealed a ‘PCB plot’ to force Babar Azam out of the team

An audio leak, purportedly featuring a voice said to belong to Pakis­tan Cricket Board’s (PCB) interim management committee chairman, Zaka Ashraf, has exposed how plans were in motion to remove Babar Azam as the national team’s all-format captain.

Babar had announced he was stepping down as captain of the team following Pakistan’s limp performance at the World Cup in India, but the leaked audio has shone new light on how circumstances were created to force the star batter to quit.

Although the PCB did not immediately respond to a request for comment, a source privy to the matter said that it was indeed the PCB chief’s voice in the recording.

The source claimed that the conversation was a private discussion with a member of his family, where the PCB boss can be heard discussing the appointments of Shan Masood and Shaheen Shah Afridi as the Test and T20 captains, respectively.

The conversation also centered on the role of player agents and the culture of friendship that was allegedly prevalent in the team, with Babar being accused of recruiting his close friends on the side.

The fact that most of the players who were selected for the World Cup were clients of Saya Corporation — an allegation that prompted chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq to resign from his post during the tournament — was also discussed.

In the audio recording, the voice believed to belong to Mr. Ashraf reveals that he already had a backup plan in mind for when Babar would relinquish the team’s captaincy.

“I asked Babar to stay on as Test captain, but told him that I was thinking of removing him as the white-ball captain,” the voice said to be Zaka Ashraf’s tells the other party. “Babar told me he would consult his family and then convey his decision.”

The same person adds that he knows that instead of calling his family, Babar would be calling Talha Reh­mani, the CEO of Saya Corporation.

“Talha advised him to leave everything,” the PCB chief adds in the leak. “I had a Plan B prepared should such a situation arise, and when Babar told me he was stepping down, I called him and told him that you’re the captain now.”

Mr Ashraf doesn’t clarify whether it was Shan or Shaheen he called, although he’s asked by the voice on the other side, which belongs to a woman, whether wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan would’ve been a better option.

“I liked Rizwan a lot, but he’s too involved with Babar and Talha,” Zaka can be heard saying.

The woman’s voice posits that Shaheen seems under the control of former Pakistan all-rounder Shahid Afridi, who is the father-in-law of the T20 skipper, to which another person can be heard saying, “… this interference is quite common”.

Earlier in the audio, Babar was also accused of having insisted on playing “close friend” Shadab Khan, who was ineffective during the World Cup. There is also the mention of pacer Hasan Ali.

Mr Ashraf’s voice responds, saying that this was the reason for the deterioration of Pakistan cricket. He also made clear his resentment of the Saya Corporation CEO. “He [Talha] has controlled eight players of the national team. He has signed contracts with the players. He is such a smart guy that he has built a lot of relationships with the players’ families by going to the players’ houses, and the players can’t move without him,” he says.

The PCB began an inquiry into Inzamam’s links with Talha’s Saya Corporation, but it was stopped once the chief selector resigned.

In the leak, Mr Ashraf’s voice adds that Inzamam had begun “speaking against us” after he was ousted as chief selector. And also learned that Mr. Ashraf is considering a review of the PCB’s policy regarding player agents. Although work on the review is in its initial stages, the PCB is said to be considering a cap of two players per agent.

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