Ahead of Pakistan's opening game of the T20 World Cup 2021, Dawn.com ran a series of polls asking its readers who they wanted picked in the 15-man squad led by Babar Azam.
The polls remained open for more than 48 hours as cricket fans scoured the national talent pool and picked the players of their choice across nine categories.
Keep in mind that Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Hafeez, Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi were not up for selection, since they are automatic choices and would have made the squad no matter who drafted it.
Here is the democratically selected group of the remaining that the fans wanted in the squad:
Fakhar Zaman (opener 1)
Originally only picked among the reserves, the hard-hitting Fakhar Zaman was the overwhelming choice for the opening slot in Dawn.com's poll. He got 2,950 votes (86.71 per cent) and blew his competition — Imamul Haq, Shan Masood and Sahibzada Farhan (highest scorer in National T20 Cup) — out of water.
Sharjeel Khan (opener 2)
This here is another southpaw opener who is apparently a massive fan favourite, evident by him getting 2,337 votes (76.5pc) and dwarfing Ahmed Shahzad's haul of 383 votes (12.54pc). He makes this hypothetical squad but not the real one.
Haider Ali (middle-order batter)
Haider Ali has his consistency issues, but the fans still have his back — possibly due to the x-factor he brings to the table. For the middle-order slot, he got the most votes (1,929 or 66.75pc), while Asif Ali was a distant second (348 votes).
Surprisingly, Umar Akmal wasn't too far behind with 342 votes to his name. Also surprising was the fact that Khushdil Shah, who is still among the three reserves for the World Cup, got the least number of votes (115). Even Azam Khan ranked above him.
Sarfaraz Ahmed (second wicketkeeper)
Former captain Sarfaraz Ahmed also still has a massive fan following. He was the clear choice of the fans to serve as the understudy of Rizwan (automatic choice). The fans had no love for young gloveman Rohail Nazir, who got even fewer votes (218) than Kamran (424), who is 39 and last played for Pakistan in 2017.
Shoaib Malik (batting allrounder)
For the batting allrounder slot, Shoaib Malik (1,927) got some competition from National T20 Cup hero Iftikhar Ahmed (703) — but it wasn't enough; Malik got the public's nod.
Imad Wasim (bowling allrounder)
Between Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan, the fans preferred the former. Wasim got 1,112 votes compared to the 836 Shadab got. It is pertinent to mention here that both are already in the Pakistan squad and so is Mohammad Nawaz, who finished third in the polls with 836 votes.
Faheem Ashraf, whose stock has fallen significantly in recent months and who did not even make the reserves, is also not rated by the fans. He finished fourth with 300 votes. Surprisingly, though, the man who finished last in this poll — Mohammad Wasim Jr (just 186 votes) — is a member of the 15 picked by his namesake chief selector.
Usman Qadir (spin specialist)
If the fans had their way, Usman Qadir would be in contention for Sunday's Pakistan-India blockbuster. He's with the team but not expected to play as he's merely a reserve. But in the polls, he got 2,013 votes to Zahid Mahmood's 625 votes. To be honest, Mahmood's participation in this poll was purely academic. There was no way he was going to give Qadir any competition.
Shahnawaz Dahani (right-arm pacer)
Here is another surprise. Shahnawaz Dahani, who is only a reserve, got the fans' backing for the right-arm pacer slot. He got almost twice (1,307) as many votes as Haris Rauf (720) — a management favourite who leaked 33 runs in his uninspiring three overs in the defeat to South Africa on Wednesday in a warm-up game. Mohammad Hasnain finished third (242). Imran Khan, the recent National T20 Cup's highest wicket-taker, finished last, with just 126 folks voting for him.
Mohammad Amir (left-arm pacer)
Retired or not, Mohammad Amir still has his legion of fans intact. He got more than twice the number of votes (1,648) as Wahab Riaz's (727). Junaid Khan finished third with 218 votes and Sohail Tanvir fourth with a negligible tally.
This is what the Pakistan squad would have looked like, had fans been the selectors:
Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Sharjeel Khan, Haider Ali, Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Usman Qadir, Hasan Ali, Shahnawaz Dahani, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi
The actual Pakistan squad
Babar Azam, Asif Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Haider Ali, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Imad Wasim, Shoaib Malik, Shaheen Afridi, Hasan Ali, Haris Rauf
Note: Shadab Khan finds a place in the fan-picked squad despite losing out to Imad Wasim by virtue of him getting the most number of votes among the losers.