KARACHI: Pakistan will unveil its Twenty20 World Cup party as well as squads for the home series against New Zealand and England on Monday with no major changes forthcoming.
Mohammad Hafeez is all but certain to make the cut despite enduring a lean year with the bat. The former captain will already be nearly a week past his 41st birthday by the time the mega event starts in Oman and the United Arab Emirates in mid-October.
But given the history of pragmatic approach adopted by the national selectors over the years in most cases, Mohammad Wasim would be the last person to take bold decisions at this point in time. As usual, the chief selector will bank, more or less, on relatively the same faces who have had been picked in all series from the time he took up the job late last year when Misbah-ul-Haq quit to concentrate on his role as the head coach.
While the usual suspects — Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hasan Ali and Shadab Khan — are the among the first names to make the 15-man squad as per the ICC rules, the selectors can pick a couple of players to travel for the World Cup, in view of bio-secure requirements, with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) solely responsible of meeting expenses for the excess baggage.
The main point of debate for Wasim and company is Hafeez, who had figured in five of the six T20 World Cups — the exception being the 2009 in England when Pakistan won their solitary title — and led his country in 2012 (Sri Lanka) and 2014 (Bangladesh). The cause for concern is veteran right-hander’s poor form: a meagre tally of 106 runs in 14 T20 Internationals at 11.77 with a best of 32.
In contrast to his struggles this year, Hafeez had a golden 2020 when he topped the aggregate among all batters across the globe with 415 runs in eight innings and averaged exactly 83 with a strike rate of 152.57 while just missing out on a maiden T20 International ton when he was left stranded on 99 against New Zealand at Hamilton last December.
And it is not that Hafeez is in a pothole since he has been chalking up decent scores in various franchise-based T20 leagues around the world, and this will surely strengthen his claims for a one final hurrah at an ICC competition.
Another factor which tilts the balance towards Hafeez is the brittleness of Pakistan middle-order batting where the selectors have already experimented with a number of options, including Haider Ali, Sohaib Maqsood and Azam Khan, whose selection raised quite a few eyebrows for the England and West Indies tours.
Pakistan’s other lingering problem is the dearth of adequate all-rounders in their ranks since Shahid Afridi left the international scene in 2018. Hafeez does falls into this category but he is no longer a regular with his handy off-spinners — particularly against the left-handers — after being already suspended several times by the ICC for suspect bowling action.
The only all-round cricketer of some pedigree in the current side is Shadab Khan. But there are high hopes of another emerging one — Mohammad Wasim, the promising 20-year-old from North Waziristan who made his international debut during rain-ravaged T20 series in the Caribbean. While Wasim is a sure bet to get picked, the selectors would obviously opt for extra spin options, keeping in mind the slow pitches during the coming World Cup.
Published in Dawn, September 6th, 2021