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Monday February 26, 2024

Uncertain selection for WC

April 20, 2019

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday named 15 players for the ICC World Cup that begins in England and Wales on May 30. But is this the final squad?

The national selectors aren’t even sure, so it seems. Besides the 15 for the mega tournament, the national selection committee headed by former Test captain Inzamamul Haq also named two additional players — left-arm pace bowler Mohammad Amir and hard-hitting batsman Asif Ali — for the limited-overs series against England before the World Cup. A Pakistan Cricket Board press release issued on Thursday said “the two players will also serve as cover for the World Cup squad and, if required, can be drafted into the side until May 23 without ICC permission”.

The selectors announced their final team for the World Cup and the cricket board has made a perfect prior plan for a five-match One-day International series in the host country. Ideally, the team’s first eleven should be playing all these matches to get into the groove. Ok, if not the first eleven, then perhaps most of the players who the captain and coach believe will play majority of the games in the World Cup. There should be a clear thinking in terms of team selection.

But the selectors, it seems, have put the tour selection committee in a fix. How are they supposed to give all 17 players a chance to show their prowess in five games? And if they are also counting the tour games before the actual series, I am afraid they are making a big mistake.

One cannot judge the form of players against lesser teams. The county teams, as we all know, aren’t very strong. Another fact is that six of the first set players have been resting since the Pakistan Super League plus Mohammad Hafeez has been out injured and they also need game time to get back into the thick of things.

If the selectors believe that Mohammad Amir and Asif Ali are good enough they should have been in the 15 for the World Cup. And, if they feel that their recent performances do not go in their favour, then why named them as additional players. This way the selection committee is also not giving any confidence to the World Cup players, especially the experienced left-arm paceman Junaid Khan and the young prospect Mohammad Hasnain. One of the two will have to sit out if Amir plays in the England ODIs and manages to turn his bad form around.

Having a look at the World Cup squad, the first observation which can be made is that it lacks firepower in batting. While there are a number of good, steady batsmen in the team, there is no one who can blast the opposition away; someone who can demoralise a bowling attack with his power hitting. The team will again bank on left-arm opener Fakhar Zaman for big scores as has been the case in the past. Asif Ali fills that role to a great extent, but obviously the selectors think otherwise. Asif could have made the cut in place of, maybe, newcomer Abid Ali, who has little chance of making his World Cup debut. Pakistan have named four openers in the side, if we also consider Mohammad Hafeez as a top order batsman — a job he has performed almost all his career. Most likely Babar Azam will bat at one-down followed by captain Sarfaraz Ahmed — as he has hinted — Shoaib Malik, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim and then the pace bowlers.

Hafeez only plays if he replaces Faheem or one of the fast bowlers, which is highly unlikely. He can only make the playing eleven as an opener. He cannot be adjusted in the middle-order which already seems to lack the muscle to take the team to scores in the range of 320-350 — nowadays considered par. Pakistan’s batting line-up will really have to play of its skin to set or chase big totals. Pakistan’s bowling department seems to have covered all the bases. They have a good mix of pace bowlers with Hasan Ali and young Shaheen Shah Afridi leading the way. The spin duo of Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim also has a major role to play if Pakistan are to go deep into the tournament.

Another factor which plays a vital role in international cricket is fielding. Pakistan are not known to be a great fielding side, but they will need to work really hard in this department — a great catch or a brilliant run-out can inject a fighting spirit in the team.

On paper, the Pakistan side looks to be a steady one. They might not be hot favourites like England or India, but if any team wants to take the Greenshirts lightly, it can do it at its own peril.