LAHORE: The national selectors are faced with a conundrum. Some players picked for the Pakistan’s Twenty20 World Cup next month are not finding form at the National T20 Cup. But those who are being tipped to replace them in the UAE-bound squad haven’t been performing either.
The National T20 Cup, underway in Rawalpindi, had assumed greater importance in terms of Pakistan’s preparations for the World Cup, which begins from Oct 17, after New Zealand abandoned their tour earlier this month due to security concerns and England followed by calling off their tour next month.
But below-par performances from the likes of batters Azam Khan and Sohaib Maqsood, pacer Mohammad Hasnain and all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz have given rise to rumours that the quartet could be replaced by Sarfaraz Ahmed, Shoaib Malik, Shahnawaz Dahani and Usman Qadir.
Opener Fakhar Zaman, who was named as a travelling reserve, is also being tipped to make the first-team squad.
And a Pakistan Cricket Board official did not attempt to play down the rumours.“Two changes can still be made to the World Cup squad,” the official told Dawn on the condition of anonymity on Tuesday. “But nothing is confirmed yet.”
The official reasoned that performances had to do with the pitches at the Pindi Stadium.
“The pitches were made for the One-day International matches against New Zealand and not for the T20 format,” the official said, with the National T20 having been shifted from Multan to Rawalpindi after New Zealand’s government had asked the team to leave Pakistan less than an hour before the start of the first of three ODI matches.
New Zealand were to play five Twenty20 Internationals at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium following the ODIs and the official was hopeful performances will pick up once the National T20 moves to Lahore from Oct 7.
“The pitches in Lahore will provide much more entertaining cricket,” said the official.
From Pakistan’s World Cup squad, only captain Babar Azam, wicket-keeper Mohammad Rizwan and pacer Shaheen Shah Afridi have shown good form in Rawalpindi.
With 135 runs in three matches Khyber Pakhtunkhwa skipper Rizwan is the leading scorer ahead of Babar (110) who is leading the Central Punjab team, while Rizwan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa team-mate Shaheen is the leading wicket-taker with eight in three.
Sindh’s Hasnain, who has given away 80 runs while picking up four wickets in two matches, isn’t the only bowler in the World Cup squad who has been struggling.
Mohammad Wasim of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has also picked up only four wickets from three matches while giving away 88 runs but his form with the bat is impressive as he is averaging 45.
Hasan Ali has picked up three wickets in three matches while Imad Wasim and Nawaz have two from two. Leg-spinner Shadab Khan, the captain of the Northern team, is yet to pick up a wicket after two matches.
Haris Rauf, though, has shown a bit of good form, picking four wickets for 46 runs in two matches.
As far as the batters are concerned, Azam has just 35 runs from three matches while Southern Punjab captain Sohaib, who was the player of the tournament at the last Pakistan Super League, has just 42 runs from three matches.
The two players whose inclusion in the World Cup squad saw chief selector Mohammad Wasim come under fire, Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah, have also had poor returns. Khushdil has 51 runs from three outings while Asif has 53 from two.
HAFEEZ CONTRACTS DENGUE
Another development which could impact Pakistan’s World Cup squad is veteran batter Mohammad Hafeez having reportedly contracted dengue.
Hafeez, who left Rawalpindi on Sept 20 for Lahore after a bout of food poisoning, is set to miss the National T20 altogether after reports emerged on Tuesday that he had tested positive for dengue.
Hafeez had arrived in Rawalpindi on Sept 17 from the Caribbean where he was playing in the Caribbean Premier League and cleared the Covid-19 test to be part of the Pakistan’s T20 squad for the New Zealand series.
With Hafeez needing at least 10 days to recover from dengue, it remains to be seen if he will be fully fit to take part in the Lahore leg of the National T20.
However, the names being touted as replacements aren’t helping their cause either.
Former Pakistan captain Sarfraz, who is leading the Sindh team, has 54 runs from two matches with Fakhar of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa faring even worse, with just 27 from two.
Likewise, leg-spinner Usman, featuring for Central Punjab, has just four wickets in three games while Sindh’s Dahani has four from two outings.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2021