LAHORE: Poor form of senior stalwarts is certain to be the main obstacle for the national selection committee and coaching staff when they sit down to pick a reliable and strong Pakistan squad for the ICC World Cup after 23 probables were named on Thursday for the fitness test on April 15 and 16.
The timing of the PCB announcement has caught everyone by surprise since the Pakistan Cup one-day tournament has just entered its third day in Rawalpindi and there are number of other possible World Cup contenders from the five competing teams, which ironically were picked by chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq and committee members Tauseef Ahmed, Wajahatullah Wasti and Wasim Haider.
The selectors, it seems, are now in a big hurry while picking the probables after holding discussions with Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur.
While there is a big question mark on the availability of veteran all-rounder Mohammad Hafeez, who is now recuperating from a finger surgery, and Shoaib Malik.
Malik is eying the forthcoming World Cup as his last hurrah of his ODI career and despite having played 282 matches in this format his recent form has been patchy. However, the selectors are likely to bank on him largely because of his international experience than form given the World Cup’s high pressure.
In last 11 matches Malik has managed just 256 runs at a modest average 23.27. Further, he took only two wickets at 79.50. In the absence of the rested Pakistan skipper Sarfraz Ahmed, Malik led the national side against Australia but only played three matches due to fitness issues as the hosts were drubbed 5-0 by Aaron Finch’s men.
In the preceding series in South Africa, Malik fared even worse as the 37-year-old right-hander mustered 95 runs in five matches after making 58 in three one-dayers against New Zealand in the UAE.
Like Malik, Hafeez too had been struggling with the bat in recent times as he scored 195 runs in eight ODI fixtures — 46 in three outings against New Zealand and 149 in five South Africa games.
And since Hafeez has been recovering that injury sustained during the early stages of the recently-held Pakistan Super League, the selectors also rested five other players — Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Shaheen Shah Afridi — besides Sarfraz before recalling Faheem Ashraf after only two matches of the Australia series.
Apart from Malik and Hafeez, younger batsmen Shan Masood (111 runs in five matches) and Imam-ul-Haq (63 in three matches) were also found wanting during the Australia series. Imam had also fared miserably against New Zealand (50 in two matches) before rediscovering his form in South Africa to amass 271 runs in the five-match series to revive his World Cup aspirations.
The biggest headache for the selectors is the wretched form of Mohammad Amir and it will not be an easy job for them to include the left-armer in the World Cup squad.
It seems the selectors will opt for a mixed blend of experience and youth when naming the 15-man party but there are high hopes of rookie opener Abid Ali being a surprise inclusion following his impressive debut century against Australia in Dubai last Friday. But the same can’t be said about Asif Ali, who wasn’t played against either South Africa or Australia while his last ODI appearance was against New Zealand last November.
But Arthur is all praise for Asif while declaring the right-hander from Faisalabad a ‘dangerous’ batsman at No.6 spot as well as a ‘good’ finisher.
Probables: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Abid Ali, Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shan Masood, Shoaib Malik, Usman Khan Shinwari, Yasir Shah.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2019