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Returning to Shehzad: The mess that Haroon Rasheed and co created

March 08, 2016

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If the selectors should be held responsible for picking the 15-member party, choosing the playing XI is the touring management’s domain in which captain is the boss. — AFP
If the selectors should be held responsible for picking the 15-member party, choosing the playing XI is the touring management’s domain in which captain is the boss. — AFP

The drama (call it comedy!) in Pakistan cricket is eternal. The latest episode is mighty uproarious.

Ahmed Shehzad, axed by the national selectors for lack of form not many moons ago, is back with a bang for the World Twenty20. And Khurram Manzoor has been thrown into oblivion.

While taking the “whole responsibility” for the disastrous outcome of preferring the uncapped Khurram over Shehzad for a major tournament like the Asia Cup T20, chief selector Haroon Rasheed says the decision “backfired”.

The Pakistani team more or less batted like a jaded bunch of capricious schoolboys

Come on Mr Haroon. Your ‘naive’ admission that it was a wrong step simply won't absolve you, nor your team, of the mess that ruined Pakistan’s campaign in Bangladesh in the lead-up to the World T20.

The position of the national chief selector carries huge significance, unfortunately Haroon, for whatever reason, has not been able to do justice to it at all.

Sometimes, one erroneous selection can disturb the whole plan. If the top-three batsmen return to the dugout early, naturally the team immediately goes onto the back-foot. And that’s what happened with Pakistan in Bangladesh.

Mohammad Amir alone cannot win us matches every time while we boast an ever-brittle batting line-up.

The impulsive induction of Khurram, the right-hander’s abject flop and now his ouster plus the recall of Shehzad for the World Twenty20 explicitly show the indecisiveness of the Pakistan camp.

It also highlights the sheer incompetence of the selectors who have had no plan whatsoever during the last year or so to test players appropriately for upcoming top-tier T20 assignments.

If Khurram – not known for his T20 exploits – was in their plans, Haroon and his team exposed just how unprofessional they are by not allowing the opener a fighting chance.

Khurram was stunned when he was named in the squad, so there is clear indication that the 29-year-old received no prior warning to prepare himself mentally.

Equally amazing is the comeback of Shehzad, who in the first place had been dumped for the Asia Cup T20 and World T20 due to notable dip in form. He should consider himself mighty lucky to be back in the team for the global event, and can now make amends with renewed spirit and application.

Truth be told, the fiasco in the Asia Cup T20 was a fallout of a series of massive anomalies in selection.

Should Pakistanis feel devastated over Shahid Afridi's side's embarrassing ouster from the continental showpiece? Indeed, if our fans have slightest of awareness about what has been done to our cricket in recent times, they should not be troubled at all.

We had taken a sigh of relief when our team got out of jail against the UAE before a well-oiled Bangladesh floored us, so the crash was always forthcoming.

Talking specifically of T20 format, it’s perhaps next to impossible to cover all the selection anomalies, as those are numerous and have different patterns and degrees.

Bangladesh shocked Pakistan in the one-off T20 in Dhaka last year; it was a major wake-up call for us but we did not learn a single lesson. Results: 0-3 whitewash at the hands of a rejuvenated England in the UAE late last year; early this year, after winning the series opener in New Zealand Pakistan lost 1-2 to a splendid opponent characterising class and fearlessness; and now the Asia Cup ouster.

Haroon and his team -- very much obvious from their miserable decisions -- have no vision. Perhaps it suffices saying that seldom one would find logic, merit and consistency in the selection of our teams.

Fragile batting has been our perennial headache particularly on tricky surfaces, so the national selectors need to be very precise in their job, but regrettably they have been no way near. And the hopeless results produced by the T20 team of late are the eye-opening testimony to this.

Making hasty and inexplicable calls has been the forte of the present selection committee.

Besides the Shehzad-Khurram selection goof-up, take a look at some other highly disputable decisions made by the selectors for the Asia Cup.

The hasty entry of opener Sharjeel Khan and all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz merely due to their performances in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) boomeranged on the selectors.

The abrupt axing of fast-improving wicket-keeper/batsman Mohammad Rizwan and the inclusion of Iftikhar Ahmed was no less of a shocker either.

Interestingly, in an ‘exceptionally exceptional’ case it is yet to be seen how many more games our selectors and team management are ready to give to Umar Akmal – the ‘eternal’ Umar Akmal – who thrives against light opponents and mostly buckles in crunch outings.

And the selectors must be hoping that 35-year-old Mohammad Sami – preferred over veteran Umar Gul who possesses fine T20 International credentials -- has finally learned to handle pressure in international contests, and would use it whenever it matters in the World T20.

Teams with good bowling attacks have better chances of winning. But even a pace battery comprising Amir, Mohammad Irfan and Wahab Riaz on a surprisingly pace-friendly track at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium cannot be on the winning side.

Considering the fact that all 'stakeholders were involved in the selection of the team', Afridi and Waqar Younis also need to be grilled for the team’s miserable outings.

Without mentioning Afridi, the boom-boom boy of yesteryear, this dissection will surely remain incomplete.

Statistics indicate a lot, if not the whole. The beleaguered captain’s hara-kiri with the bat whenever the team is in dire straits has not only lost matches but turned the most ardent of supporters against him.

They are all fed up with his brash brand of cricket which has not given him or his T20 team any encouraging results during the last four months or so.

Afridi’s fans know well that he can deliver – he has done it on several occasions in the past under extreme pressure -- if he keeps himself calm for a few overs in rapid-fire T20 clashes. Unfortunately, it has not happened on quite a few occasions; and now it has started hurting team’s cause badly.

Take a glance at Afridi’s measly batting and bowling figures in T20 Internationals since April 2015 (matches 16, runs 173, average 12.35, highest score 45; wickets 12, average 33.41) and you would not need further explanation as to why rational followers of the game think the 36-year-old should hang up his boots.

If the selectors should be held responsible for picking the 15-member party, choosing the playing XI is the touring management’s domain in which captain is the boss.

If these setbacks were not enough, Afridi’s verbal offering in public on “reconsidering retirement” after the upcoming World T20 piled up more pressure on him to perform which was evident from the all-rounder’s poor show in the continental contest.

With the Asia Cup now history, Afridi will need to step up and employ his entire 20-year international cricket experience at the World T20 – most probably his last international competition as PCB chief Shaharyar Khan plainly declared in a recent press talk.

Afridi’s positive approach will certainly lift his battered brigade at the mega event. All the players on their part will need to forget the past, particularly the recent past, and combine to produce their best.

One can hope against hope that our selectors, captain and head coach would reassess their plans and actions and take decisions that would purely serve the interests of the team. Or else the trauma Pakistan suffered at the Asia Cup will continue at the World T20 and beyond.

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