KARACHI: Pakistan’s interim chief selector Shahid Afridi gestures during a press conference at the National Stadium on Thursday.—APP
KARACHI: Pakistan’s interim chief selector Shahid Afridi gestures during a press conference at the National Stadium on Thursday.—APP

KARACHI: Ideas for the future are being thrown around by Shahid Afridi, who reiterated that naming the squad for the three-match One-day International series against New Zealand is his last assignment in the role as Pakistan’s interim chief selector. In recent television comments, Afridi had stated that players with strike rate of 135 or above would be considered for selection; an eventuality of such a move would’ve ruled Pakistan’s top batters Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan out of the side.

Afridi, suave as usual, was here at the National Stadium on Thursday as he announced Pakistan’s squad for New Zealand ODIs — which saw returns for Haris Sohail and Shan Masood and also saw call-ups for uncapped Tayyab Tahir, Usama Mir and Kamran Ghulam — clarifying that his comments on the strike-rate were to pose a challenge for players. Asked whether it was wise to throw such notions when he’d already stated that he won’t be in the role any longer, he said it was “an idea for the future”.

Pakistan’s former all-rounder was named interim head of the selection committee following a shake-up of the Pakistan Cricket Board which saw a 14-member management committee led by Najam Sethi take over the affairs of the country’s cricket governing body. Despite being in the role, Afridi has carried on his commitments with a television channel, where he’s been heard speaking on players he’s monitoring for selection to the national team. A terse reply came when he was asked whether it was a conflict of interest: “You won’t see me again on that channel till I’m in this role.”

The question remains how long he is going to be in the role. Murmurs that he would be persuaded to continue by Sethi have been brewing. In naming the squad for the series, which begins on Monday, he stated the idea was to introduce players and provide them with experience with the ODI World Cup looming in October. He also floated the idea of separating players for limited-overs games and Tests.

Haris, Shan return for Pakistan as uncapped Usama and Tayyab included

“We are putting up the options that we have,” Afridi said. “In the past, we have invested a lot on players, only to waste their talents by playing them in all formats and dropping them altogether when they fail to perform in one.”

He went on to say that the role of his selection committee was to provide captain Babar Azam with the weapons that make him better in the role. “We want to make him as big a captain as he’s a player.”

‘ON ONE PAGE’

He said the selection committee had been in consultation with Babar and head coach Saqlain Mushtaq but being on “one page” didn’t mean they had “agreed on everything”. “The coach and the captain have a big responsibility,” he added. “They have to make the team that fights on the pitch. But we have the job to give them a good combination. There are people who wouldn’t agree with me but I can’t make everyone happy.”

Batter Haris returns to the side for the first time since 2020 while Shan played his last ODI in 2019 while Tayyab and Kamran both found runs in the recently-concluded Pakistan Cup, where Usama was the leading wicket-taker. Afridi expected Usama to take the spin-bowling load in the absence of Shadab Khan, who he said “wasn’t feeling comfortable while bowling due to his injured index finger”.

Afridi did make it clear that Mohammad Rizwan remains Pakistan’s number one choice as the team’s wicket-keeper in limited overs cricket despite Sarfraz Ahmed scoring runs during the ongoing Test series against the Kiwis. “Sarfraz remains an option,” he said, “but only if Rizwan is unable to play.”

Asked whether Mohammad Haris, who demonstrated flamboyant stroke-play at last year’s T20 World Cup staged in Australia, should’ve been an option to consider as back-up to Rizwan, Afridi said that Haris “needed to work on his batting”.

Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Haris Rauf, Haris Sohail, Imam-ul-Haq, Kamran Ghulam, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Naseem Shah, Agha Salman, Shahnawaz Dahani, Shan Masood, Tayyab Tahir, Usama Mir.

Published in Dawn, January 6th, 2023

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