Thursday December 02, 2021

Pakistan recall old horses Hafeez, Malik for BD series

January 17, 2020

KARACHI: Selection of cricket teams in Pakistan is generally a tiresome dance of one step forward and two steps back.

Thursday, when Pakistan unveiled what you might call their preliminary line-up for this year’s ICC T20 World Cup in Australia, wasn’t much different.

Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s head coach and chief selector, picked several new faces in the 15-man T20 squad which will take on visiting Bangladesh in the forthcoming three-match series in Lahore from January 24 to 27.

But then he also backtracked on his promise of rebuilding the team and giving it a new direction by recalling the previously discarded senior duo of Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik.

The two were seen as the biggest losers of Pakistan’s post 2019 World Cup shake-up under the guidance of Misbah. They were ignored for a series of assignments but it seems that Pakistan’s recent poor run in T20 Internationals has forced Misbah to change his mind.

While Hafeez, 39 and Malik, 37, are back and will have a perfect opportunity to cement their place in the squad against Bangladesh at home, there was no place for pace lynchpin Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz.

Their exclusion especially that of Amir was surprising considering that he is regarded as one of the best pacers in international cricket and has been proving that consistently in the ongoing Bangladesh Premier League (BPL).

It is understood that the decision to snub Amir comes with the support of top Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) officials, who have been seething since his decision to retire from Test cricket at just 27.

Apart from the return of Hafeez and Malik and Amir’s omission, the most exciting piece of news was the decision to rope in Pakistan’s newest pace sensation, Haris Rauf, in the squad. Till recently a tape-ball player, Haris has been making headlines in the Big Bash League in Australia with his fiery spells. There was too much talk about him for Misbah to ignore.

Also brought in are rookies — allrounder Amad Butt, 24, and top-order batsman Ahsan Ali, 26.

Pakistan have made a total of eight changes to the side which lost five T20Is, 3-0 against Sri Lanka at home, and 2-0 against Australia last November.

Eight players who were part of the squad in the series against Australia — opener Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, paceman Mohammad Irfan, Amir and Riaz, batsmen Asif Ali and Haris Sohail — have been axed.

Misbah said that he was “alarmed” by the recent spate of defeats and needed to find the right combination.

“How to return to winning ways was the basis of our selection,” he said on Thursday.

Misbah defended his decision to recall Hafeez and Malik.

“When Malik and Hafeez were dropped for the Sri Lanka series we had said that both are experienced and doors were not shut on their selection,” he stressed.

“Obviously, we were trying out our pool, but we found they were missed. So even if Hafeez hasn’t played much cricket lately, he is experienced and mature enough to contribute for Pakistan.”

Hafeez’s selection is a gamble considering his suspect form and fitness as well as the fact that Pakistan can’t use him as a bowler because of his illegal bowling action.

But Pakistan, who have managed to stay as the number one team in T20I format despite their poor run, are certainly looking quite desperate at the moment.

In the last 12 months, they have lost 8 out of 9 completed T20I matches. Before that, they had almost become invincible in the shortest format of the game.

“We have lost two series earlier and it was important for us to think hard about how we can return to winning ways,” Misbah said. “Most of our decisions were taken considering the fact that we have been losing and have to start winning again. So we’ve got our experienced players back and picked our domestic performers. We wanted to persist with Khushdil Shah and Usman Qadir and picked Harris Rauf on his performance in the national T20 Cup and the Big Bash.

“We have tried a mix of senior and young players which enable us to retain our winning momentum. Until the World T20, everyone is in consideration. Yes, the situation has been alarming after we lost against Sri Lanka and then in Australia. But we are going to keep experimenting until we don’t get to our best combination. The results I know weren’t up to our expectations but we don’t need to be frightened.”

Pakistan squad: Babar Azam (captain), Ahsan Ali, Amad Butt, Iftikhar Ahmed Haris Rauf, Imad Wasim, Khushdil Shah Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Mohammad Musa, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Usman Qadir.