LAHORE: Pakistan’s national selectors on Thursday axed out-of-form pace bowling spearhead Mohammad Amir from the World Cup squad while including Shoaib Malik despite his ordinary form, in-form opening batsman Abid Ali and rookie speedster Mohammad Hasnain in the 15-member party.

Mohammad Hafeez has also been picked for the May 30-July 14 mega event in England and Wales but the experienced all-rounder’s final selection is subject to physical fitness following a second surgery on his fractured thumb late last month.

Chief selector and former Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq announced the squad during a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore.

The squad led by Sarfraz Ahmed comprises three openers, four middle-order batsmen, two spinners, five fast bowlers and a wicket-keeper.

Imad Wasim’s inclusion despite him having failed the first fitness of the World Cup probables carried out recently at the National Cricket Academy, and then the 30-year-old all-rounder getting extra time to prove his fitness appears a bit puzzling.

Interestingly, Inzamam on Thursday admitted that some favour had been given to Imad, who bowls slow left-arm orthodox, saying he was an experienced player.

However, this relaxation has not been given to under-performing Amir, who along with Asif Ali has been named in the squad for the five-match ODI and one-off T20 series against England to be staged from May 5 to 19.

CHIEF selector Inzamam-ul-Haq speaks to reporters during the press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday. —M.Arif/White Star
CHIEF selector Inzamam-ul-Haq speaks to reporters during the press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Thursday. —M.Arif/White Star

Amir, 27, has been in wretched form since steering Pakistan to a superb 18-run triumph over arch-rivals India in the 2017 Champions Trophy final in London, with just four wickets in 14 matches.

He has been replaced with 29-year-old Junaid Khan, another left-arm pacer who, though has been injury-prone, in an eye-catching record has taken 108 wickets in 74 ODIs at an average of 28.46. The pacer took four wickets in three ODI games against Aussies last month.

Asked Amir should also have been given the same relaxation which had been given to Hafeez and Imad (on fitness grounds) along with Malik and Shadab Khan, both of whom had been below par in recent ODI outings, Inzamam said no doubt Amir was a leading and talented bowler but needed to show improvement.

“Amir had not performed as well as was expected of him,” said Inzamam. “We have included him for the England series with a hope that he regains his rhythm and wicket-taking ability in the series.”

The chief selector lamented left-armer Amir, who burst onto the international stage in 2009 with a bang, had not represented Pakistan in a World Cup Cup yet. Amir missed the 2011 and 2015 editions during which he was serving a spot-fixing ban.

All World Cup teams can make changes to the squad until May 23 and this gives Amir a chance to fare well in the England series and reclaim his place for the all-important World Cup.

If performance and form are the criteria for the World Cup selection, then the inclusion of veteran Malik — possessing a huge experience of 282 ODIs — who has failed with both bat and ball in recent ODIs remains a big question. The right-handed batsman who bowls occasional off-spin holds a way below-average batting record in England where he has totalled mere 300 runs in 23 ODI innings at a pathetic average of 13.63. Moreover, the team under his captaincy against Australia last month miserably failed.

Abid’s inclusion as third opener along with regular southpaws Imam-ul-Haq and Fakhar Zaman earlier looked doubtful but finally the selectors preferred him over Shan Masood, another left-hander.

Right-handed Abid, who had failed to reach national team despite giving several impressive performances on domestic circuit since making his List ‘A’ debut back in 2005, finally got the attention of the national selectors for the Australia ODI series statged in the UAE last month.

The Lahore-born Abid justified the call with a marvellous debut century in the fourth ODI at Dubai. He then further strengthened his case by producing a match-winning 132 for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the Pakistan Cup, a high-profile domestic one-day tournament, at Rawalpindi.

Hyderabad’s Hasnain, who made his first-class debut in 2018-19 for PTV, has made rapid progress. He earned a big name in this year’s Pakistan Super League where he produced genuine pace while representing Quetta Gladiators, the eventual winners. After being picked for national duty for the Australia ODIs in the UAE, the right-armer didn’t impress much, picking two wickets in three ODIs.

However, Inzamam, answering a question at the presser, said, “Hasnain may be a surprise package for any team at the World Cup because of his extraordinary speed of 150kph-plus and he can damage any team.”

On Hafeez, the chief selector hoped the veteran player would regain fitness in time.

“Hafeez has not played any cricket for the past 10-odd weeks but he has always featured in our plans. Although his inclusion in the World Cup squad is subject to fitness, yesterday we got a boost when he started playing with tennis ball after his doctor confirmed he will be available for the England series.

“Our World Cup opener is on May 31 against the West Indies, which is still six weeks away. And we are confident he will be fully fit and ready to display his vast international experience.”

When asked a number of experienced players had failed to click in the last 11 to 15 ODIs they had played, what if they failed to regain form in the World Cup, Inzamam was not ready to consider the seniors’ bad performances since the 2017 Asia Cup. The chief selector rather preferred to consider the team’s performance against Australia who whitewashed Pakistan in the UAE last month.

“We gave chances to back-up players against Australia and though we lost the ODI series, our bench players fought well in the series and that is an encouraging sign,” he said.

To a question, he said though wicket-kee­per/­batsman Mohammad Rizwan did well in last month’s series against Australia (with two centuries), Sarfraz remained the team’s first-choice wicket-keeper. Intere­stingly according to media reports, Rizwan, 26, came first among the World Cup probables in the fitness test at NCA.

Responding to a query, the chief selector negated the impression that the selectors had bypassed the performance of the players in the Pakistan Cup that ended on April 12, as they had announced 23 probables for the World Cup during the national one-day event.

Inzamam noted that Pakistan would be featuring in more than 20 limited-overs games in England during the next two months, which he reckoned was a huge task. “For this reasons we decided to give rest to seniors players against Australia. Undoubtedly it was a tough decision for me as well as for the PCB.”

Earlier, before announcing the team Inzamam said: “While picking the side, we’ve tried to cover all the bases by assessing our strengths as well as analysing each opponent, the match venues and the event format and hopefully the boys will do their best to win the World Cup.”

The England-bound team will train at the Gaddafi Stadium on April 20 and 21 before departing for London in the wee hours of April 23.

Squad:

Sarfraz Ahmed (wicket-keeper, captain), Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Faheem Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shoaib Malik

Additional players for England ODIs and one-off T20: Asif Ali, Mohammad Amir.

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2019