Prayers and hope rather than fitness and stats appear to be the main pillars of Pakistan's selection policy. — Dawn/File

Dissecting Pakistan's 'Hail Mary' squad for World Cup 2019

Prayers and hope rather than fitness and stats appear to be the main pillars of Pakistan's selection policy.
Published April 22, 2019

In American football, or hand-egg (as internet trolls would say), a Hail Mary pass refers to a desperate last-ditch attempt to hurl the ball forward with the hope that something, if anything, happens.

At this point, all calculations, all strategies, all playbooks, all everything goes out the window and hope takes over.

It rarely ever works out, and almost always doesn't, and thus the name.

On Thursday, Pakistan Chief Selector Inzamamul Haq said that he is sending a Champions Trophy-shaped Hail Mary squad to England, hoping that some divine intervention and some blind luck reproduce the same results as they did two years ago.

He did not say that out loud, but then not everything meant to be said also has to be explicitly spelled out.

The chief se-luck-tor did admit this much that it was his, the coach's and the captain's joint idea to recreate as much of the 2017 Champions Trophy squad as they could. Probably in his reasoning, if the fortune favoured the brave that one time, why wouldn't it again a second time? Ever the optimist, Inzamam is probably a firm disbeliever of adage: lighting never strikes twice.

"It does so twice and thrice and fourice..." is something you can almost imagine him saying.

So 11 of the 15 picked for World Cup are the same ones that were also on the England-bound plane two years ago. And if the rest hadn't retired, weren't injured or hadn't done Umar Akmal-esque things to their careers, they would have earned Inzamam's nod too.

While there is nothing wrong in throwing Hail Mary passes and hoping against hope, some would say there is a time and a place and a particular set of circumstances for that. You resort to that mindset when your plans A, B, C and D have failed.

When heading into the flagship quad-annual tournament of the cricketing world, you rely on form, numbers, fitness, experiences, analytics and all those things. You take all that is concrete and all that minimises the possibility of the equation reaching the point where 'hope' comes into play.

Consider these eye-opening look:

Imad Wasim is nursing a chronic knee injury which means that as things currently stand, he cannot run and cannot pass a fitness test. Yet, as things stand, he is in the squad for what could be the most physically taxing World Cup the world has ever seen this side of 1992. Keep in mind that the 2019 rendition sees a return of the pool-less format that was abandoned after the Imran Khan-led Pakistan's famous triumph, meaning that every team this year would have to play a minimum of nine and a maximum of 11 matches.

Mohammad Hafeez also finds himself on the roster even though he, too, is recovering from his thumb surgery.

Shoaib Malik is a career 35.12 runs per innings scorer. In 2018, his numbers fell to 29.83 and this year they are at 28.14. The dip is as clear as day. To make matters worse, Malik is a notorious struggler on English pitches where he averages a staggeringly low 13.63 with the bat.

COMMENT: The questionable case of Malik’s selection

If any other selection panel in the world had factored in these numbers, Malik would never have been on his way to England. Yet, he is.

Mohammad Hasnain, the 19-year-old, has a total of three ODIs and two first-class matches under his belt. In the former format, his bowling average is 78 and in the latter 46.66. He has a total of five wickets in those five outings.

Even if we add his seven PSL 2019 outings, his career tally of organised cricket matches comes to just a dozen. It's one thing to put faith in young blood but this is just pushing the envelope way too much. Post-World Cup clean-up (oh yes there will be one) would have been the perfect time to induct him but the selectors seem hell-bent on throwing him in the thick of things, for the odd hope that he may do something with his raw pace.

And then there is Abid Ali, a 31-year-old with just two career ODIs and zero experience of English conditions. He did score an impressive ton in one of his two outings, which was all what the selectors had to see to draft him in. One single innings, and Ali is on his way to the World Cup.

And lastly, the curious case of Mohammad Amir. This one is technically not a squad member but he has been retained for the England series before that, with rumours being that he'd be the first to be inducted if there are any injury withdrawals.

Forget World Cup, for someone that has taken five wickets in 14 matches in the last two years, he should be nowhere near any squad.

A notion, and a false notion at that, has led many to believe that Amir has that 'x-factor' and could prove to be lethal on his day. Only thing is that any x-factor he had is now an 'ex-factor' because the numbers tell a completely different story. Amir's bowling average on English pitches actually dips from 32.85 to 38.33, proving that on stats alone he has no business being in the ODI side, yet he is.

For five of the 15 — effectively one-third of the side — to be picked not on any empirical evidence, any YoYo tests or any logical reasoning, it shows that selectors have yet again chosen hope over substance. Let's hope that their hope is not as forlorn as the fans' is of them.

The author is freelance sports writer and a die-hard fan of the Pakistan cricket team.