PAKISTAN’S World Cup squad has been named. The 15-man party will try to reach the glory every cricket team at the 10-nation mega event in England and Wales would be dreaming of.
While it is mighty tough to precisely foretell as to which team would be lifting the coveted trophy at Lord’s on July 14, the case of Pakistan given their long-held legacy of exceptional unpredictability is as uncertain as ever.
A World Cup is a ruthless battle with absolutely no room for any team, or player, to falter. Merit — above everything — is the top prerequisite for any contesting party to excel. Experience is another criterion, it has no substitute. Of course, the selectors are required to keep a fine balance between merit and experience while picking the brigade for the game’s premier global competition. One wrong choice sometimes can prove detrimental for the team’s cause.
While talking of experience, Shoaib Malik’s selection for the showpiece needs some dissection.
Though the veteran all-rounder possesses a massive 282-ODI experience, his wretched form with the bat and his fast diminishing utility as an off-spinner of late raise several questions about his ability to perform in high-pressure World Cup clashes. Moreover, how Inzamam-ul-Haq and his fellow selectors could ignore the player’s pathetic batting record (23 innings, 300 runs, average 13.63) in England where many a times seam and swing conditions test the very best in business, is equally puzzling.
In a World Cup outfits come with all their bases covered.
Let us compare the 37-year-old Malik with the stalwarts — ageing ones — of the other teams picked for the game’s top prize (see table). The comparison criterion comprises batting performance in the last 20 ODI innings, and age which is 35 years (minimum).
The ageing players bracketed in this comparison include Malik, his compatriot Mohammad Hafeez, New Zealand’s batting maestro Ross Taylor, South Africa’s heavyweight Hashim Amla, his experienced team-mate J.P. Duminy and 2011 World Cup-winning Indian captain M.S. Dhoni.
Comparative stats in sports show a lot if not everything, specially when difference is clear and striking. New Zealand have picked Taylor — holding a top-notch ODI career average of 48.34 — for the World Cup owing to his massively prime form with the willow. His ultra-rich average of 87.14 in the last 20 ODI innings is surely gigantic in front of Malik’s 30.11.
Amla’s overall batting average in ODIs touches almost 50 whereas Malik’s is a modest 35.12. Right-handed Amla, whose ODI form in recent times has slumped to an extent that his selection for the World Cup was in doubt.
However, the ODI average (43.05) of an ‘out-of-form’ Amla in the last 20 innings is much above than Malik’s. Dhoni’s match-winning capability is renowned world over. Though the dip in the batting form of the 341-ODI veteran has been disturbing for the Indian think-tank but Virat Kohli the other day has backed the wicket-keeper — who still enjoys a magnificent ODI career batting average of 50.72 — for his unquestionable loyalty and exemplary dedication.
Even Dhoni’s reduced average (39.86) in his last 20 ODI outings is significantly higher than possessed by the Pakistani all-rounder under spotlight.
Hafeez, 38, whose bowling action issues as well as his recent injury and surgery have tested the resolve of the 208-ODI campaigner, has fared better than Malik. With an average of 36.06 in his last 20 one-dayers and a strike-rate of 85.60 in these games, Hafeez who has won a number of games for Pakistan, certainly has better credentials to claim a place in the World Cup squad.
Even left-handed Duminy — not in the league of world’s top-class batsmen — sits above Malik with a decent average of 37.00 in his final 20 ODI attempts. Apart from being a useful part-time off-spinner, the 194-ODI Duminy has lifted his batting strike-rate from his career’s 84.39 to 92.99 in the recent 20 games. On the other hand, Malik’s 77.31 (last 20 innings) and 81.75 (career) will hardly interest any prudent fan.
Class, form and experience are the three primary factors that are considered for selecting a team for a global event.
Leave the above-mentioned figures. Take it factually. The class of Taylor, Amla and Dhoni is firmly established in the cricketing world; they are indisputable match winners on their day. Looking at their fabulous records and achievements made over the years, no one can doubt about them not being in the top league. Still their recent fall in form was questioned and analysed before they eventually made it to the World Cup stage.
The hard questions for the Pakistani fans are: does Malik stand anywhere in this league? How many top-level matches has he won for Pakistan in the last couple of years? Malik’s batting in the last 10 ODI innings presents even a more distressing picture (runs 255, average 25.5). The fact that six out of these ten games were staged in the UAE, where Pakistanis enjoy home-like conditions, makes Malik’s case bleaker.
No one in a sports team is dispensable; rather it is the team’s very requirements on the basis of which individuals are selected. Malik, who started his international career way back in 1999, had his high points in the game – no one can deny. However, with the passage of time his on-field performance has gradually declined. At 37, he remains a brilliant fielder no doubt but this is surely not enough for a member of the World Cup squad.
Had Malik possessed a gleaming record held by several Pakistani greats like Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam or Mohammad Yousuf, then perhaps his selection for the World Cup would have been justified. However, the ground reality is that Malik is not in that select league, he himself should realise that.
And last but not the least, how Sarfraz Ahmed and Mickey Arthur would fit in Malik – struggling for form -- in the final eleven in a middle-order comprising in-form youngsters Babar Azam, Abid Ali and Haris Sohail plus veteran Mohammad Hafeez (subject to fitness), would remain a big question until Pakistan enter Trent Bridge for their Cup opener against West Indies on May 31. The five-match ODI rubber against England prior to the mega event does provide Malik with a golden chance to redeem himself for the biggest stage.
ODI batting performance in the last 20 innings
Tabulated under: player, country, age, runs, average, strike-rate:
Shoaib Malik Pakistan 37 542 30.11 77.31
Ross Taylor New Zealand 35 1220 87.14 91.72
Hashim Amla South Africa 36 775 43.05 89.08
J.P. Duminy South Africa 35 518 37.00 92.99
M.S. Dhoni India 37 598 39.86 74.75
Mohammad Hafeez Pakistan 38 541 36.06 85.60
Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2019