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May 21, 2019

Pakistan bring back discarded Wahab for World Cup

Sports

May 21, 2019

KARACHI: What do you do after suffering nine consecutive defeats ahead of a major assignment like the forthcoming ICC World Cup?

Well, if you are Pakistan you bring back a fading pacer, discarded more than a year ago because of indifferent form and questionable fitness. Inzamam-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s under-fire chief selector, announced on Monday that left-armer Wahab Riaz has been included in Pakistan’s 15-man World Cup squad.

Almost switching to panic mode in the wake of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of England, Pakistan made two more changes to their squad ahead of the May 22 deadline. Pinch-hitter Asif Ali and discarded fast bowler Mohammad Amir have earned the selectors’ nod, a day after Pakistan were blanked by England in the ODI series. The trio of Faheem Ashraf, Junaid Khan and Abid Ali have been axed.

While Amir and Asif were always expected to earn a place in the World Cup squad, it is the return of Wahab that has caused quite a stir. The 33-year-old last played an ODI for Pakistan in a group match of the ICC Champions Trophy in Birmingham on June 4, 2017. He was smashed for 87 runs from just 8.4 overs as India thrashed Pakistan by 124 runs. Though Pakistan went on to win the title, Wahab played no further role in their Champions Trophy campaign.

Wahab’s cause was primarily helped by the below-par showing of the Pakistani pace attack against England. The likes of Faheem and Junaid failed to click in the series, forcing the selectors to look elsewhere. In the last two years, Wahab has featured in 17 List A games since then, taking 27 wickets at an average of 28.40 with an economy rate of 5.18.

Inzamam said that Pakistan needed to change their combination after it became evident that their attack wasn’t clicking. “The lack of potency of our frontline bowlers in the recent ODI series against England meant that a change was needed. In addition, we now know that we will encounter batting wickets throughout the World Cup campaign,” he commented.

“The combination of both these elements, meant that we believed that right now, utilising the World Cup experience and knowledge of Wahab was the correct choice. “Wahab has been training and playing club cricket, and the player of his calibre will not face much problem in adapting and adjusting to the gruelling demands of the World Cup. In addition, playing in the World Cup warm up matches, bowling his quota, will have him match-ready.”

Inzamam, who had overlooked Wahab earlier, stressed that it would have been foolish to ignore experienced bowlers like him and Amir. “The bowling unit during the England ODIs has not clicked as anticipated or expected; if we have at our disposal two vastly experienced pace duo of Amir and Wahab, then it will be foolish not to include them,” he said.

Inzamam said that Faheem and Junaid were unable to capitalize n the opportunity given to them. “Junaid and Faheem had been originally preferred over a few other bowlers based on their recent performances and the investment we had made on them since 2017. They had the opportunity to cement their Word Cup spots, but they were well below-par in the series against England even though they were up against the difficult challenge of bowling on placid and batsmen-friendly wickets.

“After it became obvious that the bat is likely to dominate the ball in the World Cup, we revisited our strategy and reverted to the pace of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz. Furthermore, Amir and Wahab give the fast bowling attack more experience to back and support the relatively inexperienced but immensely talent Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Hasnain.”

Inzamam agreed that it was a tough call to omit Abid Ali, who played just one match in the series against England. “It has not been an easy decision to leave out Abid, particularly after he got only one opportunity on the tour. But, he was our third choice opener. After both the first choice openers struck early form, we preferred Asif Ali as he brings firepower to the team that can strengthen our chances in the tournament.

“Both our openers are in form and average over 50 each. If required, we have a fully fit Mohammad Hafeez who can be promoted in the batting order, while Haris Sohail can be the another option.”

Meanwhile, Amir, who is presently in London and has fully recovered from chicken pox, and Wahab is expected to join the squad in Bristol on May 22. Both the players will be available for selection for the warm-up matches on May 24 and 26 before Pakistan launche their World Cup campaign against the West Indies on May 31 at Trent Bridge.

Pakistan squad:

Openers – Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq

Middle-order batsmen – Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarafraz Ahmed (captain, wicketkeeper) and Shoaib Malik

Spinners – Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan

Fast bowlers – Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Wahab Riaz.

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