In 1996, the Lombard Challenge Cup was held in England as the equivalent of the U15 World Cup. The majority of players from that tournament have gone on to little success, even in first-class cricket. Apart from the likes of Marlon Samuels or Jonathan Trott, the vast majority of players from that tournament failed to reach their potentials. With the exception of Pakistan, no team had more than two players graduate to the national side later.
For Pakistan though, that tournament became a lesson. Most of the players that reached the final were trialled too early – some succeeded, most failed; but the general consensus has been that this generation became the byword for sustained mediocrity. Bazid Khan, Hasan Raza and Yasir Arafat failed to do anything significant on the highest stage. Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik have failed more than they have succeeded and signify the travails of the recent Pakistani teams.
And then there are Faisal Iqbal and Taufeeq Umar whose selection, or the lack of it, has been one of the many talking points in the squad chosen for Zimbabwe.
Firstly, the fact is that Taufeeq Umar – at least statistically – is an underrated player. He may not be an international great by any stretch of the imagination, but his record as an opener (averaging 39) is superior to those of most of his contemporaries (Imran Nazir, Imran Farhat Salmant Butt, Mohammad Hafeez and YasirHameed all average between 26.0 and 35.5). He isn’t flashy but he does succeed when he has a chance to do so. That was the reason his presence in Team Misbah was so logical. Over the first 18 months with the Test team since his comeback in 2010, he averaged over 40 with the bat, mostly in friendly conditions. Two bad series and an injury later, he’s been dropped. It would have made sense if the drop had been for Nasir Jamshed, but instead he’s been dropped for Khurram Manzoor, and more criminally, Imran Farhat.
I have ranted about Farhat once or twice before, so there’s not much more I can say – beyond the fact that Taufeeq has been dropped for someone who does everything he does, only he’s slightly worse at doing those things. Taufeeq will never be a world beater, he’s the character actor who might shine in a scene or two, but the film can often work well without his contribution; Farhat doesn’t even measure up to that.
Far more worrying for Pakistan is the treatment of Nasir Jamshed. This is precisely the sort of series that 7 of the remaining 8 major nations in world cricket use to test their youngsters. This tour would have been used to develop these guys – provide Nasir with the assurance that he’s Pakistan’s first choice; allow him to get a few easy runs and restart his five-day career. Instead, what he’s been told is that unless he doesn’t succeed away to the best bowling attack in the world, he isn’t good enough for the national side.
Meanwhile, Farhat and Hafeez will likely be the first choice pair, despite a decade of underwhelming performances. The level of hypocrisy and short sightedness in these selections is astounding.
Equally worrying has been the fact that Faisal Iqbal has been retained. There is little use in taking any of the first choice four middle-order players to Zimbabwe. We already know that Azhar Ali, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq have succeeded in similar conditions against far better bowlers. Similarly, Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Irfan and maybe even Junaid Khan are far too good to be “wasted” on Zimbabwe. With two major series coming up, they might have been better served having a rest. Instead of providing Harris Sohail (the owner of the most exceptional season with the bat last year) an opportunity to prove himself; instead of giving Umar Akmal his first Test match for over two years as a reward for his performance in the West Indies; instead of even trying the likes of Sohaib Maqsood or Umar Amin, Pakistan have decided to keep Faisal Iqbal – who has had a decade to prove himself and has failed to do so, again and again.
It is not the mere selections that rile the fans right now. It’s the lack of vision. Are Pakistan trying to build a generation to come in when these oldies retire? Of course not; they would much rather be giving players, whom even the team management doesn’t rate, free trips to Zimbabwe. Instead of building a Test batting lineup around a bunch of 20-something year olds (Nasir, Azhar, Asad and Umar), they have given a spot to a pair who are on the wrong side of thirty, and unlikely to be a solution. Shouldn’t a record of four hundreds in 121 innings (combined for Farhat and Faisal) be enough for Pakistan to realise that they are not good enough? The selections aren’t brave, logical or long term – they signify the very worst of Pakistan cricket. If Farhat and Faisal are the answer then Pakistan need to revisit the question.