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Who is afraid of Zimbabwe and why?

August 14, 2013
Some of the players should have withdrawn and pave the way for youngsters to showcase their talent in Zimbabwe.
Some of the players should have withdrawn and pave the way for youngsters to showcase their talent in Zimbabwe.

Pakistan cricket affairs are becoming a set of jokes, literally. We are touring Zimbabwe in a few days for a full series, and taking the whole army of frontline soldiers to conquer a virtually toothless opposition!

Why for heaven’s sake are likes of Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez, Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Younis Khan keen to show their muscle against the lowly-ranked Zimbabwe? At least some of these, if not all, should themselves have shown a bigger heart to withdraw and pave the way for youngsters to showcase their talent in Zimbabwe. But, perhaps, we are yet to cultivate that sort of culture in our cricket.

And what can be said about the amazing Test recall of Faisal Iqbal who holds a very mediocre batting record (averaging 26.76 in 26 Tests) and has failed regularly against top-class rivals.

The selection of Imran Farhat for the Tests was even more bewildering. It looks like Imran, who arrived at the international scene at the start of the 21st century, will continue to be boarded for the rest of the century! However, his late pullout due to “domestic matters” has given talented left-handed opener Shan Masood a good chance to display his willow work in Zimbabwe.

While the perplexing selection of players for a low-profile series like Zimbabwe shows complete lack of planning by the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), the inexplicable move also indicates an alarming level of insensitivity on part of the management towards development of Pakistan cricket.

‘Aim high’ goes the adage for one to make the zenith in every walk of life. However, it is very obvious the locution has no worth in the eyes of our cricket administrators who — one strongly feels — need some fundamental lessons in recruitment and management.

It appears that the forthcoming back-to-back series against formidable teams like South Africa and Sri Lanka in the UAE are not in our Board’s planning sheets.

Because had it been so, the selection of players for Zimbabwe would have been future-based.

With no chief selector currently in place owing to the ongoing constitutional crisis in the PCB makes the selection matters even more messy and complicated. One is at a loss to understand as to who is in charge of the team selection for the Zimbabwe tour. What role did the selection committee (sans chief selector) play in finalising the squads and how much input was taken from Misbah-ul-Haq, Mohammad Hafeez and coaches Dav Whatmore and Mohammad Akram?

If caretaker PCB chairman Najam Sethi’s functions have been restricted by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order, then what was his say in the players’ selection and the approval of the squads? Who is owning the teams chosen for Zimbabwe and what have been the criteria for selection? These vital queries must be addressed immediately to avoid Pakistan cricket hitting rock bottom in international rankings.

Looking into the selections a bit more analytically, one finds several other anomalies. Pakistan will play two Tests, three ODIs and a couple of Twenty20s in Zimbabwe.

The squads named for the ODIs and Twenty20s are a blend of very experienced campaigners and some rookies. Now if promising players like Umar Amin, Haris Sohail, Asad Ali, Anwar Ali (in both limited-overs squads) and Sohaib Maqsood and Zulfiqar Babar (in T20 side) have been picked to demonstrate their worth, how many chances will each of these get altogether on the tour in the presence of Hafeez, Asad Shafiq, Afridi, Umar Akmal, Saeed and Mohammad Irfan? Then Ahmed Shehzad, Junaid Khan and Nasir Jamshed are also there in both the limited-overs teams.

Moreover, Sohail Tanvir (T20s) and Abdur Rehman (ODIs) also make it tough for the touring team management to select the playing XI.

The 26-year-old Sohaib from Multan, with a healthy average in first-class cricket, deserved to be in all three formats, or at least in both limited-overs teams so that the strongly-built batsman could have more opportunities to polish his skills.

As far as hardworking Hammad Azam is concerned, one fails to guess why he was ignored for Zimbabwe duty. Looking at the future of Pakistan cricket, the lanky young all-rounder easily merited selection so that he could have more exposure before the South Africa and Sri Lanka series and the World Twenty20, scheduled to be staged in March-April 2014. Sadly, however, Hammad continues to get the same treatment that big-hitting Abdul Razzaq has received during the last few years which is, indeed, a horrible trend taking shape in Pakistan cricket.

More importantly, no one in the PCB seems to be really bothered about grooming a full-time specialist wicketkeeper for the future. Why else would Umar Akmal has been picked to keep wickets in the Zimbabwe limited-overs games? Even if Umar manages to do a fair job behind the stumps, who will be our wicket-keeper for the South Africa and Sri Lanka series and later in the World Twenty20? Surely not Umar since he will be a spent force if he is saddled with the job permanently.

Dashing Khurram Manzoor’s Test recall after three-and-a-half years is perhaps the only new positive move in the Zimbabwe series selection. The solid opener has tremendous potential and is expected to cash in on this opportunity to cement his place for future assignments.

The mindset of the team management is already appearing to be on the defensive side, as is evident from Whatmore’s puzzling statement that youngsters will only be tested in Zimbabwe limited-overs games and not in the Tests.

It is imperative for Pakistan to shun this defensive approach to make notable strides in the game. The PCB should learn from the long-term approach adopted by top-ranked teams like England, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka who have been introducing new and younger players to achieve rich dividends.

It is high time we invested in the younger brigade to make an impact in the 2015 World Cup or else we would end up with Zimbabwe in the ICC rankings.