LAHORE: Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmad and head coach Mickey Arthur are confident that the best players for the series against England and World Cup have been selected, without any compromises being made on the players’ fitness level, and feel that it is good that Pakistan is going as underdogs and not as favourites for the mega event.
Pakistan team is leaving for England on early Tuesday morning. They will begin their tour with the one-off T20 match at Cardiff on May 5 followed by the five ODIs against England. They will then be competing in the Cricket World Cup which begins in England and Wales from May 30.
Addressing a joint press conference with head coach Arthur here on Monday, Sarfaraz said: “We have the best combination and we will try our level best to take maximum advantage of experienced players like Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez.
“We will Inshallah play much better and beyond our potential in the World Cup,” vowed Sarfaraz. “It is good that we are underdogs (for the World Cup), because if there is a favourites tag it can put a lot of burden on the team.”
He admitted that all-rounder Imad Wasim was part of the team’s combination and, though he could not pass fitness test, he has been given some relaxation to recover from his knee injury.
Commenting on the fitness of Abid Ali and Muhammad Hasnain, Sarfaraz said that since both the players are new, they did not have much idea about the high standard of fitness tests but later worked hard to clear it.
Sarfaraz further said: “We should not look back. Yes we made mistakes in the past but now we should move ahead and be positive. We have worked hard in training sessions and still have ten to twelve days for us to further polish our skills before playing England in the ODIs.”When asked about the below par form of both Malik and Hafeez and whether they will find place in the playing XI during the matches, Sarfaraz said:” Both Hafeez and Shoaib are our key players and since Shoaib has declared it as his last World Cup, we will try to take benefit from their experience and I am confident they will perform well.”
Asked if the combination of left and right-hand openers would be more useful in England rather than both left-handers, Sarfaraz said since Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq were the regular openers, they are the first choice despite being left-handers. He further said he would himself try to bat among top five in the ODIs.
About the match against India in the mega event, Sarfaraz said it was like any other match because in the World Cup, all nine matches are equally important for him. “As captain I consider Pakistan should win all nine matches and not only against India, but this time we will try to repeat our performance against India of ICC Champions Trophy (final) to break the World Cup jinx,” he said.
Commenting on the selection of rookie pacer Muhammad Hasnain, the skipper said he has been given the chance because he can bowl at around 150kph plus that could be a key factor for Pakistan in the World Cup.
About Muhammad Amir, Sarfaraz said the medium-pacer still has the opportunity to regain his past form against England (in five ODIs) to get back his place in the World Cup. “Amir has been doing well in the training camp and improving. Our other pacers Junaid Khan, Shaheen Afridi and Hasnain and of course Hasan Ali are also good so we expect them to form a formidable attack.”
Sarfaraz added that the team has a definite advantage since all players except Asif Ali, Hasnain and Abid Ali have had the experience of playing in English conditions.
To a question, Sarfaraz said he was still hopeful that leg-spinner Shadab Khan would recover from the virus in time to be part of the World Cup.
Meanwhile, head coach Arthur said Pakistan was fully prepared World Cup and he has confident in the players’ ability to win it.
“We have worked really hard over the past couple of years. We are as prepared as we can be we have to bring all our capabilities to produce results in our favour,” he said.
To a question of calling back leg-spinner Yasir Shah’s in place of Shadab , who has been dropped for the series against England due to a virus-related illness, Arthur said it was a good replacement.
“Shadab is a wonderful cricketer. He is ‘three-dimensional’ player. He plays a key role for us just outside the power play. However, we have tried to cover with another wrist spinner Yasir who in the last series against Australia did well.
“He (Yasir) is under no illusion that he has to challenge both the outside and inside edge of the bat,” Arthur added.
The head coach declared Babar Azam as the team’s best batsman and expectations are high from him. “Babar is a very a talented batsman, having the ability to get good scores at a good rate.”
“”I think these are exciting times for Pakistan cricket and for the team. We leave on a journey for which we have worked really hard,” he said, adding that they have “a good team, both in talent and attitude”.
“The initial thing is to qualify for the last four and take it from there, so I think we have the potential to certainly go all the way but before that we have to play very well,” Arthur added.
The theme of Pakistan’s World Cup mission is “we have, we will.”
Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019