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January 8, 2015

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Sohail returns as Pakistan pick five pacers

KARACHI: Pakistan have opted to compensate for the unavailability of Saeed Ajmal by adding pace to their bowling arsenal for World Cup 2015 to be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand in February-March.
And the one man to benefit most from it was Malakand-born pacer Sohail Khan, a surprise inclusion in Pakistan’s final 15-man squad for the World Cup.
Sohail, 30, who played the last of his five One-day Internationals back in 2011, was made a part of Pakistan’s five-man pace battery spearheaded by Mohammad Irfan. A fit-again Junaid Khan has returned while other pacers in the squad include Wahab Riaz and youngster Ehsan Adil.
However, there was no place in the touring party for seasoned pacer Umar Gul as the national selection committee headed by former Test captain Moin Khan wasn’t impressed by his form and fitness.
Also ignored were all-rounders Anwar Ali and Bilawal Bhatti along with the senior duo of Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal, who were threatening to make what would have been a controversial comeback.
Still working to regain full match fitness, Misbah-ul-Haq will captain the squad which includes several players who have been nursing injuries in recent times.
Though generally hailed as a fair selection, a rather uncommon happening Pakistan cricket, the omission of prolific middle-order batsman Fawad Alam did ignite a heated debate.
Pakistan’s decision to include just one specialist spinner — leggie Yasir Shah — was also questioned, considering that the national squad will not have a single off-spinning option for the World Cup.
But a confident-looking Moin Khan shrugged aside all fears and apprehensions and told reporters here at the National Stadium that he expects Misbah’s men to emulate what Pakistan achieved back in 1992 – the year when the country won its only 50-over World Cup.
“This is the best possible squad from the available resources, and the selectors believe it has the requisite talent and skill-set to

recapture the World Cup Down Under after 22 years,” Moin said.
The squad includes two openers, four middle-order batsmen, five pacers, one spinner, two all-rounders and a wicketkeeper-batsman.
Moin said the selectors have opted for specialists rather than relying on bits and pieces players.
“Four factors were of prime import for selectors: Suitability to play in conditions in Australia and New Zealand; performance in international contests; performance in domestic cricket and preference to the choices suggested by captain and head coach.
“Of the selected squad of 15, eight have played in the last World Cup, while the remaining seven have been picked after their recent form impressed the selectors. This makes it a pretty decent blend of experience and youth.
“Despite a recent poor run of form in limited-overs cricket, in my mind, there’s no doubt on the capability of this side to excelling in the World Cup.
“It indeed is a formidable unit, with the potential and natural flair to perform well at the ICC’s premier global showpiece event. And if the boys hit form individually and as combinations and peak at the right time, this bunch has the capacity to go all the way to the winners’ podium.”
Though Pakistan have seasoned players like Shahid Afridi, inexperience seems a bit of a problem considering that six specialist bowlers share merely 199 ODI wickets between them.
Agencies add: Sohail was rewarded for his domestic form as he took ten wickets in two of his most recent List A games, and was the highest wicket-taker in this season’s Quaid-e-Azam Gold League - 64 at an average of 22.
Apart from Sohail, the other World Cup inclusions not part of the squad for the series against New Zealand in December 2014 - Pakistan’s previous ODI assignment - are batsman Sohaib Maqsood, and pacers Junaid Khan and Ehsan Adil. All three missed that series because of injuries but have now recovered.
The players who were part of the New Zealand series but excluded from the World Cup squad are: Anwar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Nasir Jamshed, Sohail Tanvir and Zulfiqar Babar. Umar Gul and Bilawal Bhatti had been withdrawn from the New Zealand series because of injury and were also not included in the World Cup squad.
There had been plenty of speculation over the last week regarding the selection of Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal, but the selectors decided to stick with younger prospects, with Haris Sohail being included for a spot in the middle order.
“Shoaib Malik was being considered for the middle-order slot as we lost the bowling utility of Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez,” Moin said.
“But eventually, we preferred Harris Sohail as his recent performances and the added advantage of him being a left-hander put him ahead.
“Obviously Sohail’s inclusion is a surprise for all of you but this is a proof that we selectors do prefer the domestic performances. He had a good one-day tournament and this is the reward for all his hard work and performances.
“Nasir Jamshed was discussed for the opening slot but we felt recent performances were important and hence couldn’t justify his selection. Fawad Alam also, unfortunately, could not make it into our team combination, but he is indeed is a fighter.”
When asked why Pakistan had gone with just two specialist openers, Moin said: “We have gambled having two openers but we have Sarfraz Ahmed as a back-up force. The nature of his game, his positivity, and the sort of shots he plays make him a solid prospect to bat higher if needed. We are very much clear in our mind that we have the best two openers, with Sarfraz as a third option.”
As many as six players named in the party had been suffering from various injuries going into the tournament, but Moin confirmed that there were no serious injury concerns at the moment.
“The 15 men are fully fit following the medical evidence we have after detailed fitness tests,” he said. “Obviously, the standard is not very high, but with the recently developed culture, every player is improving.
“I must say that the fitness levels of our players is ready to match those of players in any other part of the cricket world. No one can give assurance of a result, but we are confident that this team can do better in the World Cup.”
Moin also gave his vote of confidence to Misbah, who had suffered a hamstring injury during the home series against New Zealand last month, but recovered after extensive rehabilitation.
“He is fit and has informed the selectors that he has recovered,” Moin said. “His call is taken with respect as he is the captain and we have to respect his observation. He has started running, batting and sprinting between the wickets, but if there is any deficiency, he still has plenty of time to cover up and I am sure in due course he will be fine.”
Meanwhile, Yasir Shah was picked with the hope that he can fill the gap left by Ajmal who withdrew due to an illegal bowling action.
Ajmal, who has led Pakistan’s attack in all three formats of the game since 2009, was suspended in September because of problems with his action.
He has undergone remedial work but nevertheless withdrew last month from the World Cup to be held in Australia and New Zealand after he failed completely to conform to regulations.
Pakistan hope Hafeez, who was included in the squad, can pass a test this month on his own bowling action. He was suspended in November. Under ICC rules, bowlers are permitted to straighten their bowling arm only by up to 15 degrees.
To fine-tune preparations for the global event, Pakistan Cricket Board has decided to organise a short training camp which has been scheduled from January 13-17 at the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.
Pakistan will leave from Lahore on January 21 for New Zealand via Dubai for the two-match ODI series against the Black Caps before flying over Tasman Sea to Sydney for its warm-up games before moving on to Adelaide for its much-anticipated first World Cup 2015 encounter against India on February 15.
Squad: Misbah-ul-Haq (captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed, Younis Khan, Harris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Shoaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz.

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