LAHORE: (From L) Members of the selection committee Asad Shafiq, Abdul Razzaq, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Yousuf and Bilal Afzal address a press conference here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday.—M. Arif/White Star
LAHORE: (From L) Members of the selection committee Asad Shafiq, Abdul Razzaq, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Yousuf and Bilal Afzal address a press conference here at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday.—M. Arif/White Star

LAHORE: Fast bowler Mohammad Amir, all-rounder Imad Wasim along with uncapped players Usman Khan and Mohammad Irfan Khan Niazi were named in a 17-member Pakistan T20 squad that was announced by a newly-appointed selection committee on Tuesday for the forthcoming five-match home series against New Zealand.

Frontline pace bowler Naseem Shah, experienced all-rounder Shadab Khan and mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed also returned to the squad after recovering from injuries and proving their fitness in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) held in February-March.

The New Zealand series is scheduled to be staged in Rawalpindi and Lahore from April 18 to 27.

The New Zealand squad is due to arrive in Rawalpindi which will host the first three matches at the Pindi Cricket Stadium while the last two will be held at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore.

The players, who were part of the Pakistan squad which toured New Zealand in January this year, but missed out on the forthcoming series include pacers Haris Rauf (fitness), Aamer Jamal and Wasim Junior, left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz, top-order batter Sahibzada Farhan and wicket-keeper Haseebullah Khan.

“It is the first function of this selection committee and we [five] selectors along with captain and head coach [Azhar Mahmood] decided the team with mutual understanding. The criterion was drafted keeping in view the World Cup as target and every player could see the rotation policy, considering the workload on the player,” Wahab Riaz, a member of the selection committee and senior team manager, said while announcing the squad during a presser at the Gaddafi Stadium on Tuesday.

Sitting in the middle at the presser, Wahab was flanked by fellow selectors inc­luding former Test cricketers Moha­mmad Yousuf, Abdul Razzaq and Asad Shafiq, and Bilal Afzal who is part of the selection body functioning as a data analyst.

Interestingly, Babar Azam, who was re-installed as T20 captain recently after former skipper Shaheen Shah Afridi was removed after just one series at the helm as Pakistan were drubbed 4-1 in New Zealand, and newly appointed head coach Azhar Mahmood, were not present at the presser as members of the selection committee.

“A day earlier, we held a discussion with all the 29 probables who attended a fitness camp in Kakul, saying to them ‘congratulations will be to those who will be selected and who could not get the nod will remain the part [of the system] in the future’.

“We have selected the best team having the input of the captain and the coach,” Wahab added.

Wahab defended the decision to pick Amir and Imad — both of whom had reversed their retirement decisions last month — for national duty.

“The decision to include Imad and Amir was a straightforward one, given their availability for selection and considering [pacer] Haris’s injury and Nawaz’s current form. Both Amir and Imad possess undeniable match-winning capabilities, and we trust they will consistently deliver strong performances to bolster the team’s objectives,” Wahab said.

Orthodox left-arm spinner Imad has played 66 T20 Internationals in which he has scored 486 runs at a strike-rate of 131.7 and taken 65 wickets at an economy-rate of 6.26. He last played for Pakistan 12 months ago at his home ground in Rawalpindi against New Zealand.

Left-armer Amir, who last played for Pakistan in August 2020 at Old Trafford against England, has played in 50 T20Is in which he has taken 59 wickets at an economy-rate of 7.02.

Wahab hoped that Haris would be available for next month’s T20 tour of England.

Wahab emphasised a specific selection policy, which at the moment was aimed at preparing the team for the all-important T20 World Cup scheduled for June this year.

“We will follow a rotation policy to keep our players fit for the T20 World Cup which is our target,” said Wahab.

“We have communicated our overarching selection policy and strategy to all elite players, and there is complete alignment within the group. To ensure the policy’s implementation in letter and spirit, I will closely collaborate with the team management during the series,” he added.

“As we prepare for the T20 World Cup in the US and West Indies, this series holds significant importance for Pakistan. Rather than solely focusing on the formidable New Zealand side, we aim to introspect and identify areas for improvement. I anticipate that players will seize the opportunities presented to strengthen their claims for the World Cup.”

Wahab added, “The rotation policy could also be implemented on Babar.”

The 28-year-old Usman was included in Pakistan squad, just four days after he was banned by the Emirates Cricket Board.

He was the second highest run-scorer in the last PSL (430 runs in seven matches) while also on the books as a player in a United Arab Emirates (UAE) league.

The ECB charged him with breaching his obligations to the Board after he attended the Kakul training camp. He was eventually banned from playing cricket in the UAE for five years.

Wahab justified Usman’s selection.

“Usman has been scoring runs for the last two, three years so he deserved selection and if there are any other issues the Pakistan Cricket Board will be dealing with them,” Wahab said.

Delighted at his selection, Usman said he would try to grasp the opportunity with both hands.

“Being chosen to represent one’s country is the ultimate dream and goal for any athlete. Today, I am absolutely thrilled and filled with joy as the selectors have granted me the opportunity to be part of the upcoming series against New Zealand,” Usman, who represented Multan Sultans in the PSL, said.

“This selection validates the relentless effort and dedication I have poured into my craft, and I am fully committed to upholding the high standards I have set for myself.”

Right-handed Irfan was adjudged the Emerging Player and Best Fielder of this year’s HBL PSL after scoring 171 runs at a strike-rate of 140.16. Overall, the 21-year-old Mianwali-born player has featured in 34 T20s in which he has scored 499 runs at a strike-rate of 135.96. Irfan also represented Pakistan in the ICC U-19 World Cups in 2020 and 2022.

Speaking on his selection for the New Zealand series, Irfan said he would try to make a permanent place in the team with solid performances.

“I am deeply honoured to have been selected in the Pakistan squad for the upcoming T20 series against New Zealand. Breaking into such a formidable team like Pakistan is a testament to the dedication and effort I have put into my game. Now, my focus is on seizing this opportunity and solidifying my position within the team,” Irfan, a player of Karachi Kings franchise, said.

“I am fully committed to continuing to work diligently and proving myself worthy of the trust placed in me by the captain and selectors.”

Expressing his views at the press conference, former batting maestro Yousuf congratulated Usman and Irfan for getting selected in the national squad and hoped that they would give their best.

“Their selection is also a cause of inspiration for the other young players, who want to make a place in the Pakistan team,” he said.

To a question, Wahab said the selected players along with five reserves would be the nucleus for the selectors till the World Cup.

Answering a question regarding the responsibility of senior team manager whi­ch had been given to him for the first time, Wahab said PCB chairman Mohsin Raza Naqvi had already said that he would give additional responsibility to some officials

“[As manager] I will see the team management affairs. Additionally, I will be observing, as a member of the selection body, the implementation of the selection policy during the [New Zealand] series.”

When it was pointed out to Yousuf that being the most senior cricketer among the selectors, he should lead the selection committee, the former middle-order batsman said, “It is a decision of the PCB which has decided to give all the members equal powers to take the decision through majority. It is good, as earlier all powers were held by the chief selector.”

Responding to a question on who would be the vice-captain, Wahab said the discussion on the subject was still under way.

To a query, Wahab termed former PCB chairman Ramiz Raja’s reported comment over Amir’s comeback to the national fold as negative.

Wahab said the negative reporting on social media had raised a perception that if a fitness camp in Kakul had not been set up the players would have remained in their ‘groups’, in the backdrop of the change in national T20 captaincy.

“It was witnessed in Kakul, how happy and united the players were with each other,” Wahab said.

When recalled that while few months ago when Babar was removed as captain both Wahab and Razzaq favoured the decision whereas now they were now backing the batter in the hot seat, Wahab said the decision of changing the skipper was based on workload management.

“Shaheen is Pakistan’s main strike bowler and one of the best in the world. To continue with the rotation policy, keeping in view the workload of Shaheen, who has faced fitness problems, it was decided to bring Babar back as captain as he is the most experienced batter, having the good experience of captaincy, and the team needs such a captain in the World Cup,” Wahab justified.

Speaking at the presser, Razzaq said, “Obviously when anyone watches players from outside it looks different. However, after becoming selector and watching the situation closely, I feel Babar is the best choice [as captain].”

Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Abrar Ahmed, Azam Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Abbas Afridi, Mohammad Rizwan, Mohmmad Amir, Mohammad Irfan Khan Niazi, Naseem Shah, Saim Ayub, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Usama Mir, Usman Khan, Zaman Khan.

Non-travelling reserves: Haseebullah, Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Wasim Jr, Sahibzada Farhan, Salman Ali Agha.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2024

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