LAHORE: Pakistan head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq addresses a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Saturday.—M.Arif/White Star
LAHORE: Pakistan head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq addresses a press conference at the Gaddafi Stadium on Saturday.—M.Arif/White Star

LAHORE: Pakistan’s newly appointed head coach-cum-chief selector Misbah-ul-Haq on Saturday did not spring any surprises while announcing the 16-member national team for the three-match One-day International series against Sri Lanka, commencing from Sept 27 in Karachi.

For a man who has been playing domestic cricket until last year and have seen many young and talented players performing well and yet ignored for selection, Misbah was expected to make some refreshing changes in the squad for the SL series. However, that did not happen on Saturday and the 16-member team comprised all the tried and tested players.

One could give Misbah some margin here as this was his first assignment since assuming office a few weeks ago. But having said that, the squad is reflective of Misbah’s defensive mindset too where he avoided making any experiments despite the fact that Pakistan team will be facing a very young and inexperienced Sri Lankan side sans its top players who have stayed away citing security reasons.

Misbah avoids any experiments in his new job

In the 16 named on Saturday, the players who have been recalled to the national team include Abid Ali, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan and Usman Shinwari. And among the 20 probables who are attending the training camp but missed out are Umar Akmal, Ahmed Shehzad, Faheem Ashraf and Hasan Ali on fitness ground.

It seems, though, that Misbah did not consult captain Sarfraz Ahmed in selecting the final squad as according to a PCB press release, he only discussed the selection with members of the selection committee who are the head coaches of the six provincial teams participating in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam Trophy.

Addressing a press conference here to announce the squad, Misbah said: “After thorough discussions with the members of the selection committee and meticulous planning, I feel we have put together the best possible squad. These are the only 50-over matches we play this season and we want to make their optimum use. Over the course of my cricketing career, I have realised there are no easy games and there are no easy opponents in cricket.”

It is also noticeable that since the start of the training camp, the PCB officials as well as skipper Sarfraz himself are preferring to remain away from the media. So far the PCB has allowed bowling coach Waqar Younus, fast bowler Usman Shinwari and now Misbah to have media interaction only.

When asked if performance was the base of the team’s selection, could Sarfraz also face the axe, Misbah diplomatically replied: “These are ifs and buts. Only time will tell.”

To another question, however, Misbah spoke openly about Sarfraz. “He [Sarfraz] has done a lot of work on his fitness. I think the biggest mistake of Sarfraz was that he did not give himself enough chances to prove himself as a batsman,” observed Misbah. “If you will bat only two or three times in 10 matches, it is just 30 percent of yourself. Sarfraz should avail more chances of batting and should not under-estimate himself as a batsman. He should take 100 per cent chances to bat as he is a player who can perform well in all kinds of circumstances.”

Asked about the fate of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, Misbah said the performances of both in T20 cricket were impressive and Umar was also excelling in other formats too.

“But at the moment Umar is doing hard work and the problem is that we want him to be fit for the longer version and for that we have given him a plan and a time period. Obviously, when we called them the planning was for T20 and they will stay back at the NCA and will get chance in the T20 series,” he disclosed. “Moreover, already we have openers like Abid Ali, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq and all are performing well in ODIs,” he further elaborated.

About Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik, Misbah said: “No one is out of our plan. Hafeez is busy playing CPL and we will see him later and we will recall any player who will be need of the team. The performances of both Shoaib and Hafeez in the last 10 T20 matches have been good.”

Defending Fakhar Zaman’s selection despite his poor form, Misbah said: “No doubt the performance of Fakhar is on the lower side. But still, he overall averages 47 plus in ODI cricket and should not be ignored. In the last couple of series he has not been good but still he is an impact player who can win matches, even if he bats for 10 overs. We have to use him, after removing his faults instead of wasting him.”

Speaking about Abid Ali, Misbah said: “Abid is more fit now and his performance is also good and he will be a good product in future.”

To a question on how difficult it was to communicate with the provincial coaches and have their consultation in the matters of selection, Misbah said it was not difficult at all.

“Some coaches are sending me their reports on the domestic matches on daily basis and some after every match and I am in constant touch with them to have their inputs,” he said.

Defending spinning all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz’s comeback, he said: ”Nawaz is quite capable to perform as all-rounder at the seventh place as no one is available after Imad Wasim. So we think he should be in the team.”

He dispelled the impression that he picked up the tried and trusted players with only victory as his priority against Sri Lanka.

“We have a future strategy and it is not a laboratory to make experiments but is Pakistan’s national cricket team. You can not afford to give chances to raw players. Whenever youngsters will perform we will call them and even upcoming talented players can also play against Australia,” he argued.

Asked about any targets set for the players to improve their strike rate, Misbah replied: “Look, in the recent past our team lost matches despite scoring 300 plus runs which shows there is also weaknesses in our bowling. Pakistan have been a team, which due to fine bowling attack has been winning the matches with a total of 230 on the board. So we have to work on both bowling and batting.”

“Almost all our batsmen have 90 per cent strike rate which is at par with many prominent world class players,” he said. “Yes in the lower order we need power strikers, both in ODI and T20 cricket.”

He also defended Rizwan’s selection as as the backup wicket-keeper/batsman. “Rizwan as batsmen is very good, having a 50-plus average with international experience too. Rizwan and Sarfraz can play different roles and they can play together in a match too. Though Haris Sohail is playing, Rizwan can come in if there are any injury problems. Rizwan is fit and we have to encourage such players.”

On the selection of almost forgotten off-spinning all-rounder Iftikhar Ahmed, Misbah said: “Iftikhar is a top performer in every format at domestic level. He may be fifth bowler of Pakistan who can bowl full ten overs. He is a mature player a very good fielder. He was ignored as off-spinner because seniors like Shoaib Malik and Hafeez were in the team.”

Misbah also praised young seamer Mohammad Hasnain and said he was good but was only bowling four overs in t20 which could not be a yardstick. “Bowling coach Waqar Younis is doing lot of work on him to groom him for Test cricket too,” said Misbah.

He spotted Faheem Ashraf, Aamir Yamin and Amad Butt as equally good all-rounders but said they would have the challenge to beat Wahab Riaz, who is also performing well with the bat.

Squad: Sarfaraz Ahmed (captain), Babar Azam (vice-captain), Abid Ali, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Shadab Khan, Usman Shinwari, Wahab Riaz.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2019