Struggling Amir, Malik need to shape up before World Cup

Updated April 20, 2019

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Thursday’s announcement — of the squad to be captained by Sarfraz Ahmed — leaves Pakistan with a number of options to consider. — AFP/File
Thursday’s announcement — of the squad to be captained by Sarfraz Ahmed — leaves Pakistan with a number of options to consider. — AFP/File

WHILE many would question Inzamam-ul-Haq and company for excluding Mohammad Amir from the preliminary World Cup squad and still persisting with Shoaib Malik despite the former Pakistan captain’s wretched track record in England, the selectors have done a reasonably fair job as far as other selections matter.

Read: Amir misses out on Pakistan's 15-man World Cup squad

Thursday’s announcement — of the squad to be captained by Sarfraz Ahmed — leaves Pakistan with a number of options to consider. The scheduling of the pre-World Cup fixtures is probably the best thing from Pakistan’s perspective. They are the only competing side to have been afforded the luxury of tuning up for the global 50-over extravaganza by facing tournament hosts England in a full series of five ODIs.

Of the five venues for the May 8-19 series, three of them — Trent Bridge, Headingley and Bristol — would be utilised for four of Pakistan’s nine league-round World Cup games with Trent Bridge hosting the opening two matches against West Indies and England.

This arrangement, inevitably, would allow Pakistan to tinker with the 17 players named for the bilateral series against England. Thus Amir and Asif Ali, both of whom are currently not part of the World Cup party, will surely be provided ample opportunities to stake their claims for the global event.

For Amir this is a make-or-break moment in his start-stop career. Having turned 27 on April 13, the left-arm paceman was hoping for a birthday present in the shape of World Cup selection but dismal statistics post-ICC Champions Trophy — just five wickets in 101 overs at 92.60 — persuaded the selectors to look at candidates who, at least on paper, offer far better wicket-taking options.

The dilemma now confronting Amir is such that only he can resurrect himself by rediscovering the form which was the lasting memories of the that Champions Trophy final against India, of all teams, when in an inspired new-ball burst on a sunny afternoon at The Oval he dispassionately blew away Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan to set up a crushing 180-run victory for his country.

Amir’s overall ODI career, which was abruptly halted for a good six years because of his involvement in the sinister spot-fixing plot during Lord’s Test against England in August 2010, does not sound flattering. In 50 games, he has claimed only 60 wickets at 32.85 with a strike-rate of 41.2 and economy of 4.78.

His statistics on English soil make more depressing reading — nine wickets in eight ODIs at 38.33 with a 46.7 strike rate and an economy of 4.91. These figures include the 3-16 spell Amir delivered in the Champions Trophy title-decider.

There is no doubt Amir will feel the burden of expectations from his supporters and unless he makes a dramatic return to — wicket-taking — form, his aspirations of finally making the World Cup debut appear bleak.

Read: 'Kaptaan' Khan gives cricket team pre-World Cup pep talk

At the other end of the scale, Malik will also feel the heat after being fortunate enough to be included in the World Cup squad. At 37, he may be one of the fittest cricketers in the Pakistan side but his numbers on the field of play in recent years — of what has been a lengthy international career which began in October 1999 — are enough for the critics baying for his blood.

Over a long period of time, Malik seldom had been a permanent fixture in the national side. The most glaring aspect being he has figured in just a solitary World Cup campaign and that too in 2007 when Inzamam led Pakistan to a humiliating first-round exit in the West Indies where they also had the traumatic experience of seeing their head coach Bob Woolmer die on the very night Pakistan embarrassingly lost to Ireland in Kingston.

During his career, Malik was overlooked for the World Cup editions in 2003, 2011 and 2015 for reasons which can best be answered by the selectors of those tenures. The fact that he is now going to the mega event after a yawning gap of 12 years is purely on compassionate grounds rather than performance as the middle-order batsman.

Easily the most experienced member of the UK-bound squad with 282 ODI appearances and 7,481 runs under his belt, Malik now is virtually sailing in the same boat as the equally-struggling Amir. Inzamam and the three members of the national selection committee — Tauseef Ahmed, Wajahatullah Wasti and Wasim Haider — have clearly given weight to sentiments than anything else while fitting in the ex-Pakistan captain.

And like Amir, Malik’s overall statistics in ODIs played in England are just as pathetic as they can be — a ‘grand’ total of 300 runs in 23 innings of the 24 one-dayers. His average of 13.63 and only one 50-plus knock (77), when he and Sarfraz shared a big partnership during the 2016 tour of England, certainly makes his selection diabolical.

His desire to call it quits from the 50-over format doesn’t make Malik a first-choice inclusion in the World Cup squad. Ideally, the selectors would have been better off by bracketing him with Amir.

High-profile competitions like a World Cup are not the platform to pick players on their past performances and pedigrees. The onus is on Amir and Malik to justify their selections.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2019