THERE may have been several issues with Mickey Arthur’s coaching right uptil the series against Sri Lanka in UAE. There he specially lost the plot when he played three seamers and only one spinner. And then went by the grain by selecting players going by reputation or influence.

But since then he’s lived up to his commitment that he will not be cowed down and select the players on merit keeping fitness as the main criteria. At least that is what appears to be the case when sitting with the selectors he settled on 25 players from whom the squad for the two Test series against England will be picked.

That Fawad Alam has been called up shows that Mickey is calling most of the shots. Otherwise Inzamam has been here for some time and refused to entertain the left hander’s claims for the Test spot that he deserved even when Misbah and Younus were playing. That he would now opt for Fawad is unlikely unless his hand was forced by the coach. That Fawad topped the yo-yo test (ironic as that reflects his career for Pakistan so far) must surely have endured him to Mickey who counts fitness as the barometer of life like Uncle Scrooge counts his gold coins.

I think that way also because Imam-ul Haq has made it to the batsman’s category; was that a compromise between Mickey and Inzi to select Fawad? It does seem peculiar that when he made a reasonable impact in the limited over formats against Sri Lanka he was dropped for the admittedly tough tour of New Zealand. Then he did not feature in the PSL. On both these fronts he could have disappointed given the quality of bowling. So was he being saved for the England trip? Where with two Tests he is unlikely to be exposed to Anderson and Broad.

To those who say let’s give him the benefit of doubt of being selected on merit as well since he has been scoring some runs in the domestic four-day format this season. But if that is the criteria then Fawad Alam has been averaging 50 across last three seasons. In fact as one journalist someone pointed out he has scored just under 7000 runs since his last Test in 2010 at an average of 55.94 with 21 hundreds! All the 3 Tests he has played came in one season in which he scored 168 on debut as an opener against Sri Lanka when Pakistan was struggling to find one.

On the next tour which was of New Zealand, Imran Farhat was brought back and Fawad asked to play at No.3. Most of Pakistan’s top order naturally fumbled on the seaming pitches of New Zealand except he was dropped after the first Test and never selected again though he still finished higher in batting averages in that Test series than Misbah ul Haq and Shoaib Malik.

And he wasn’t selected for the tour of England in 2010 although both Younus Khan and Mohammad Yousuf (at least initially) had vacated their slots as both were banned for a year by a PCB disciplinary committee (which in itself was a tragi-comedy of justice when it came to Younus Khan, the most upright and honest player in the side.

Such has been the injustice against this talented cricketer that when he was selected for the shorter formats (for which I say his game is not really suited) he still got to a hundred in the Asia Cup as well as a half century and till today enjoys the 4th highest ODI batting average (41.82) among all Pakistanis.

Since Misbah and Younus have stepped down in April last year, Pakistan has tried Haris Sohail successfully with Azhar Ali stepping down leaving Sami Aslam and Shan Masood to open. That effectively shut out Fawad Alam from the Test squad. Now with Shan Masood not in the probables, it seems that Mickey might just play the first six as Azhar Ali, Sami Aslam, Babar Azam, Fawad Alam, Haris Sohail and Asad Shafiq.

Yes he may just play Fakhar Zaman (if selected for the tour) for Sami Aslam but then Sami had a good series in England last time and the six I have outlined above have the technique and temperament for Tests, unlike players like Fakhar Zaman and Hussain Talat who with Fahim Ashraf should make it into the touring party at least; especially as the latter two can seam the ball a bit if they get a chance to play.

I also liked the way Mickey and the selectors have agreed to drop Wahab. True he impressed with his Test debut there in 2010 with a five-for, but as Mickey pointed out he hasn’t been winning matches for Pakistan. My gripe would not be that alone though Mickey has added the ‘work ethic’ to his list of annoyances. It is that he has been hugely inconsistent and gone shy of bowling the reverse swinging yorker. All through the last 2-3 years he has been bowling either leg side or short of a length on off. These too have been not asked too many questions from the batsmen. He seems to have forgotten the art of beating the defenses of the batsmen. Only 2 (neither from among top 5 in batting order) of his 40 Test wickets during last two years have been leg before and 8 clean bowled (of the latter none except Dave Warner can be mentioned as top class.)

About two years back I had suggest a year out of international cricket for him and play selective first class cricket to work on his line and length on helpful pitches and against weaker set of batsmen. That would have regained his confidence for him. But I think he left it too late and literally tired himself out. That may work for limited over jaunt but not the five day excursion.

I’m a bit surprised that given the overcast and seaming conditions of Ireland and England in May and early June, the probables have not selected bowlers like Imran Khan Sr. and that they have gone for four spinners in the camp. I would have thought two would have been enough and more space should also have been given to other than Sohail Khan and Sadaf Hussain, who must be the unluckiest fast bowler of recent times. He stands at six-foot-five and is another left-handed bowler (Pakistan seem to be producing them at the pace of Donald Trump’s tweets).

Ever since Sadaf made his first class debut in early 2009 he has taken near to 500 wickets in First class and List ‘A’ matches at an average of under 20.

While I understand that there may be fitness problems for Sohail Khan, I had hoped that where Mickey Arthur was wielding his influence and breaking free of nepotism and reputational selection, he would have taken Sadaf under his watchful eye in the camp. Test matches is where the true temperament and fitness comes out and where a youngster gets two shots at making his mark.

Though Abbas and Rahat have the technique to seam and swing the ball but where Mickey is breaking the mold, he may have just have overlooked some talent in the fast bowling function. Otherwise a good shortlist where Mickey and Inzi have not gone on probabilities and reputation horses but on fresh legs and lots of whip.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2018

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