Is Shahid Afridi the right choice to lead Pakistan at the upcoming World T20 in India? Does Mohammad Amir deserve a spot ahead of another paceman for big event?
With the tournament now just 37 days away, debates over what combination Pakistan should play in India have intensified.
The West Indies have already made a controversial pick in naming the suspended Sunil Narine in the 15-man World T20 squad.
Will Pakistan, too, opt for a few shockers or play it safe? While we wait for a formal announcement by chief selector Haroon Rasheed, here are two squads picked by Dawn Sport staff members with a few surprises of their own.
Mir Shabbar Ali's XI
Captain: Shahid Afridi Wicketkeeper: Sarfraz Ahmed
The ‘Professor’ has been the most consistent (consistent being a relative term in Pakistan) player for the limited-over side which has been struggling for over a year now.
Earlier this month, Hafeez’s 61 off 47 in the first T20 against New Zealand illustrated how important it is for teams to get a solid start even in the shortest format of the game.
His innings ultimately contributed to a Pakistan win in the first match and with Ahmed Shehzad struggling, Hafeez will have to be the team's key man at the top.
The 35-year-old possesses a decent technique and has enough experience to fire in India.
The senior Akmal has not featured for Pakistan since 2014. The reasons are more than one.
But for the all-important World T20 in March, Pakistan need to solve their issues at the top of the order.
Shehzad has failed to put up a score of more than 30 runs since July 2015. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Kamran powerful strokeplay and flair can help Pakistan on India’s batting friendly tracks.
Kamran was also the highest run-scorer in the recently concluded National ODI Cup with 576 runs in 8 matches at an average of 72.
Yet another talented cricketer to have come through the junior setup, Babar has shown great maturity since donning the Pakistan colors.
The right-hander has style — and numbers to back it up.
Consistency is what defines the 21-year-old.
Azam has got four 50 plus scores in eight ODI outings at a strike rate of 87.42 and also holds an impressive record of 825 runs in 28 domestic T20 matches at a strike rate of 117.85.
Hailing from Lahore, Babar can prove to be the anchor of the Pakistan lineup in the World T20.
Controversy surrounded the younger Akmal before the New Zealand tour, but the right-hander was fully supported by his captain Shahid Afridi as “an important part” of his World T20 plans.
Umar showed his worth in the second T20 against New Zealand when he put up a quick-fire 56 after the top order failed to provide a good start.
The 25-year-old is undoubtedly a star who needs to shine a bit more at the top level.
Malik is now a veteran. And with his experience he is the main source of stability for the Pakistan batting line-up.
The Sialkot born all-rounder, with his street-smart batting, has the ability to rescue the side when the top-order and middle-order fails to deliver.
Malik will also come in handy on Indian tracks with his wicket to wicket off-break bowling.
A chirpy Sarfraz behind the wickets can intimidate opponent batsmen on his day. The Karachiite has safe hands and has had a long run with the Pakistan side now.
Sarfraz proved his mettle at the 2015 World Cup.
After initially being out of favour, the right-hander came back into the side making key contributions in wins against New Zealand and Ireland to help Pakistan make it to the quarter-finals.
Pakistan will be hoping he brings his performances from the longer formats to the T20 game and keeps the score ticking where ever he is slotted in the batting order.
Imad Wasim’s utility as a T20 cricketer is what makes him an important part of the Pakistan lineup. The Swansea-born all-rounder can choke the opponents’ run flow with sharp, in-drifting slow-left-armers.
With the bat, Imad provides the much needed depth to the batting lineup.
The former Pakistan U-19 captain also provides leadership when it comes to batting with the tail.
Shahid Afridi (captain)
Struggling to contribute with both bat and ball, the Pakistan captain must be feeling the pressure.
However, the swashbuckling all-rounder is hungry for success in his last tournament as a Pakistan international.
Afridi was below par against New Zealand in the recently concluded T20 series but his leg-spinners were coming out of the hand nicely and he will play a massive role in the absence of a match-winning spinner.
As a batsman, the 35-year-old will also find the Indian pitches to his liking.
Pace, firepower, appetite and talent. Wahab, with all these traits has become a fan favourite.
The 30-year-old can bowl toe-crushing yorkers and dangerous bouncers to push the rival batsmen on the back foot.
Wahab can be perfect choice first-change option for Pakistan.
After a five-year absence from cricket, all eyes were on Amir as returned to the international fold.
His performances on the field have been low key though and in the three T20s and one ODI against New Zealand, he has only shown glimpses of his prowess.
After the last ODI against New Zealand Amir will join his PSL side — Karachi Kings where he will get more match practice to sharpen his pace, swing and seam.
The 23-year-old will only get better as he keeps playing and will have enough miles under his belt for the World T20.
The lanky pacer was Pakistan’s main weapon at last year’s World Cup and can provide pure pace and bounce with the new ball.
Although Irfan was left out of the New Zealand T20s, he is the best choice to share the new ball with Amir as the giant along with unsettling the opposition also picks up wickets.
Umer bin Ajmal's XI
Captain: Mohammad Hafeez Wicketkeeper: Sarfraz Ahmed
Sami Aslam made his debut for Pakistan against Bangladesh as 19-year-old last year.
The stylish left-handed batsman scored a confident 45 in his first outing and since then, he has been out of the squad for reasons best known to the Pakistan Cricket Board’s selection committee.
Aslam is young, and has a good batting technique – which makes him a good prospect for Pakistan in future.
He averages 27.61 with a strike rate of 109.78 in 14 domestic T20 matches. As Pakistan struggles to find a solid opening combination, Aslam could just be the man for the job.
Mohammad Hafeez (captain)
Mohammad Hafeez remains the backbone of Pakistan’s fragile batting lineup despite all enduring a storm of criticism since making his international debut.
On his day, Hafeez can be absolutely sublime and has the ability to pull out a big shot out of nowhere.
In the first T20 against New Zealand, he proved his worth on the seaming, drop-in pitches. If he gets going at the top order, Pakistan is ensured enough room in the death overs to go out all guns blazing.
He is better suited also to lead the side, and although the 2012, 2014 World T20 campaigns under him did not bring a title, Hafeez did enough to be given an extended run as a leader.
‘Young and talented’ – that’s how Umar Akmal is better known as.
With seven half-centuries and a strike rate of 124.25, Umar is surely a very valuable player in T20s. Though he has not been able to cash in on his gift, coming down to bat at No. 3 may just give him enough room to show the world what he can do.
Malik was, arguably one of Pakistan’s most smartest captains, and is currently the go-to man of the team.
Malik in the middle-order will ensure there aren't any dramatic collapses while at the same time provide impetus to the innings.
Malik’s ability to bowl at a tight length couple with brilliance in the field making him a dream T20 player.
His experience and expertise in the T20 format should be capitalised by the team.
The 24-year-old live-wire makes the team on his fielding abilities alone.
With a decent batting average in one-day internationals, Rizwan is still waiting for his moment to shine. Head coach Waqar Younis continues to have faith in the young player, and he can always keep if Pakistan opt to rest Sarfraz Ahmed.
Not many like to see him in the team as a player, let alone as a captain.
But Pakistan’s T20 lineup is incomplete without Boom Boom.
Afridi at No. 6 in Indian conditions is a necessity but fans will be hoping the 35-year-old draws curtains on his career with an all-round performance similar to his 2009 heroics.
Sarfraz is one of those guys who don’t like to go down without a fight.
Hailing from Karachi, he has been trained enough on the streets of the city to outsmart some of the best in the game. Players like Sarfraz are good to have in the dressing room as they instill belief in others.
Since the days of Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood, Pakistan have been searching for an all-rounder who is not a bits-and-pieces player. And In Imad, they have someone who is equally good in all departments.
Imad showed great potential during the Sri Lanka series last year, and continues to excel with both bat and the ball. A player like Imad at No. 8 stretches the batting line up.
Wahab’s spell to Australia’s Shane Watson in 2015 World Cup was just the glimpse of what he is capable of doing. Though he does to tend to get carried away in experimenting with different lengths at crucial times of the game, he remains a key member in the solid bowling attack.
Back in 2009, Amir was touted as the ‘future of Pakistan’s fast bowling’ – but then 2010’s spot-fixing episode happened, putting a five-year ban on him from all sorts of cricket. Pakistan’s tour to New Zealand in 2016 opened for him the doors of international cricket again, and he has started to get his groove back. One can see natural seam movement and pace off his bowling – which is a good sign. Still 23, Amir has a lot of cricket ahead and one could still pin their hopes to him to continue leading the country’s pace battery.
Irfan might not have a ‘traditional’ fast bowler's persona, but he continues to be a threatening striker. The Seven-foot tall pacer has variation and pace on his side to trouble batsmen around the world. He has been a good prospect for captains to utilise during different phases of the game and has delivered to the best of his abilities.
A bowling attack comprising Irfan, Amir, Wahab, Afridi, Imad and Malik could surely add up to their opponents’ miseries.