LAHORE: Five players will don Pakistan colours for the first time in a T20 World Cup, the country’s cricket board said while finally announcing the national side’s squad for the showpiece’s upcoming edition following last-minute controversy on Friday.

The 15-member Babar Azam-led roster includes opener Saim Ayub, middle-order batters Azam Khan and Usman Khan, spinner Abrar Ahmed and pacer Abbas Afridi along with eight Pakistan mainstays.

Pacer Mohammad Amir and all-rounder Imad Wasim — who rescinded their respective international retirements in March — complete the Pakistan squad.

The national side are currently in England to play a four-match Twenty20 International series against the hosts as part of their build-up to the T20 World Cup, which is set to be held in the United States and the West Indies from June 1-29.

Pakistan’s squad for the England games as well as for the preceding series against Ireland consisted of 18 players. Batters Salman Ali Agha and Irfan Khan Niazi have been axed. Pacer Hasan Ali, meanwhile, was released from the camp earlier this week.

Pakistan’s squad announcement comes on the deadline day set by the International Cricket Council, and that too in evening hours.

The delay was caused after four out of the seven members of the national selection committee; selectors Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Yousuf, head coach Gary Kirsten and captain Babar sent the 15 finalised names to Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Mohsin Naqvi for approval.

According to sources, Mohsin was not happy with how the remaining selectors, namely Bilal Afzal, Abdul Razzaq and Asad Shafiq weren’t included in discussions by the four members in England to finalise the squad.

The PCB chief raised an objection that he wanted the minutes of the meeting in which all seven members of the selection committee took part. Later, however, the team was finalised with consensus between all members of the selection committee.

“The side was confirmed on Friday afternoon (UK time) following a two-hour selection committee meeting, which was attended by Abdul Razzaq, Asad Shafiq, Babar Azam, Bilal Afzal, Gary Kirsten, Mohammad Yousuf and Wahab Riaz,” read a PCB press release.

Babar Azam will lead the national team for the third consecutive time in the T20 World Cup and the batter will not have a deputy, despite selectors having claimed repeatedly lately that one would be announced.

Pakistan will go into the tournament with an experienced batting line-up including the seasoned likes of Babar himself along with the in-form duo of Mohammad Rizwan and Fakhar Zaman.

While Saim to open with Rizwan and Babar and Fakhar to make up Pakistan’s upper middle-order, Iftikhar Ahmed and Azam will bring hard-hitting impetus down the order.

Usman, picked for his impressive show in this year’s Pakistan Super League, is highly likely to be a replacement for either of the top-order batters if an injury occurs.

While Imad will be more of a lower-order finisher, Shadab Khan’s role as a batter will be key with the all-rounder having lately struggled to produce his usual quality leg-spin bowling.

Abrar may well be his replacement as a bowler on slower wickets. Pakistan, however, have gone with a pace-heavy attack, boosted by the return of Haris Rauf from injury, that he picked up during the PSL.

Haris injured his shoulder during the tournament in February and is expected to play in the second Twenty20 international in Birmingham on Saturday — his first outing since recovery. The PCB said Haris was fit and raring to go.

“Haris is full fit and bowling well in the nets,” said a release issued by the board. “It would have been nice if he had gotten an outing in the first match at Headingley but we remain confident that he will continue to maintain an upward trajectory in the coming matches.”

The Headingley match between Pakistan and England was abandoned due to rain.

The pace attack will be spearheaded by Shaheen Shah Afridi and Naseem Shah is likely to share the new ball with him. Amir and Abbas, meanwhile, will provide valuable options to Babar according to the conditions at play.

“This is an extremely talented and balanced side that has a mixture of youth and experience,” the PCB said. “These players have been playing together for some time and look well prepared and settled for next month’s event.”

Teams in the T20 World Cup are divided in four groups of five with the top two teams qualifying for the Super Eight stage in which all matches will be played in the West Indies.

Pakistan’s Group ‘A’ includes arch rivals India as well as Canada and Ireland. Pakistan will face United States in their first match in Dallas on June 6.

Squad: Babar Azam (captain), Mohammad Rizwan, Saim Ayub, Fakhar Zaman, Usman Khan, Azam Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Amir, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Naseem Shah, Abbas Afridi, Haris Rauf, Abrar Ahmed

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2024

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