KARACHI: The suspense over the composition of Pakistan squad for the ICC World Cup will end in Lahore on Thursday when the national selection committee, headed by Inzamam-ul-Haq, will unveil the 15-man party for the mega event, besides picking two additional players for the preceding five-match ODI series against England.
Inzamam and his fellow selectors — Tauseef Ahmed, Wajahatullah Wasti and Wasim Haider — face a daunting task in the wake of the recent 5-0 loss to reigning world champions Australia in the United Arab Emirates where Pakistan fielded a depleted side while giving ‘rest’ to seven senior members of the team.
Unlike top-ranked sides such as England, India, New Zealand and Australia, Pakistan have had a bumpy ride in the ODIs since defeating arch-rivals India in the ICC Champions Trophy final at The Oval in June 2017.
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Pakistan’s recent assignments in 50-over cricket narrate a dismal story. Prior to hosting Australia, Pakistan lost 3-2 in South Africa after sharing the three-match series against New Zealand with one match rained off, a couple of months after failing to qualify for the Asia Cup final.
Head coach Mickey Arthur’s desire to have the fittest possible squad at his disposal surely makes a lot of sense in one of the longest World Cups in terms of duration with 48 fixtures to be played from May 30 until July 14.
The biggest headache for both Arthur and captain Sarfraz Ahmed is the Mohammad Amir dilemma. The left-armer’s misfortunes since his dismantling of India’s top-order — Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan — in that dream spell during the Champions Trophy final make a horrific reading: The 27-year-old has taken just five wickets from 101 overs at 92.60 in the last fourteen matches.
Despite all his struggles, there is no denying that Amir is definitely a ‘big-match’ player and this single virtue will be enough for the selectors to induct him unhesitatingly, although several other options are available.
Sources close to the selectors have hinted that both Arthur and Sarfraz are very keen on having the still-raw Mohammad Hasnain as a surprise weapon. At the start of February many never knew how this tearaway fast bowler even looked like. But his sudden rise to stardom as a match-winner during the Pakistan Super League made everyone sit up and take serious notice of him.
Hasnain was one key factor behind Sarfraz-led Quetta Gladiators finally putting to rest their PSL jinx as the Hyderabad youngster not only grabbed 12 wickets in seven matches but was declared man-of-the-match for his four-over haul of 3-30 in the final against Peshawar Zalmi at Karachi’s National Stadium last month.
As always only a handful of names do rounds between the stakeholders — the selectors, captain and head coach — and given the present scenario confronting them, the selection of Mohammad Hafeez, Imad Wasim and Shoaib Malik are debatable owing to injury and form issues.
Hafeez, who at 38 will be the oldest member of the squad if picked, is still recuperating from the surgery he had to undergo after fracturing his finger in the first week of the PSL. However, a fully fit Hafeez becomes an automatic inclusion given his all-round abilities.
Imad, the left-handed spinning all-rounder, is also recovering from a knee injury but the PCB medical team is confident of him getting fit by the time Pakistan are ready to face two-time former champions West Indies in their opening World Cup fixture on May 31.
Shoaib Malik maybe the most experienced current player — 282 ODI appearances since October 1999 — but his lack of big scores in the recent past has opened a fresh debate whether Pakistan should give its ex-captain the swansong he is long dreaming of. Malik’s patchy record in England — averaging only 13.6 with the bat in 23 innings — could ultimately decide his fate.
At this point in time, the reliable Abid Ali appears certain to make the cut because the selectors are keen on having a right-hander as a backup to regular openers Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq while despite all his shortcomings as power-hitter Asif Ali is likely to win the nod, primarily because Arthur has a ‘soft’ corner for the Faisalabad right-hander.
It, however, needs to be mentioned here that the PCB and the selectors still appear quite confused about making either the ‘form’ or the ‘fitness’ as the main criterion for selection because while some players have shown fine form, they have failed the fitness tests while some who have cleared the fitness test with flying colours have not shown the kind of form that is required for World Cup selection.
Probable World Cup squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik/Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Asif Ali, Mohammad Hasnain.
Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2019