Too many options, not enough slots: Which great bowler will make it to the 2019 World Cup squad?

Published: November 12, 2018
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In a side that already has likes of Hasan, Amir, Junaid, Shinwari and Ashraf in its arsenal, Shaheen and Abbas are creating havoc for automatic selections when it comes to fast bowling.

Pakistan cricket is facing a dilemma at the moment– albeit a good one. There are simply too many decent fast bowling options for the ODI format, but only limited spots remain for grabs for the upcoming 2019 World Cup in England and Wales.

It can be argued that Shaheen Afridi and Mohammad Abbas are much to blame for making selectors scratch their heads while formulating the pace battery for the upcoming world series.

Shaheen was a future prospect that was meant to be kept under the wings for grooming, but who knew he would disobey and take off on his own given the opportunity? An 18-year-old put out there to get some exposure ended up rattling those up the ranks when it came to leading the pace attack for Pakistan.

Shaheen Afridi reacts during the 1st ODI match between Pakistan and New Zealand on November 7, 2018 in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Getty

Abbas, the medium pacer who was meant to be too slow to pick up wickets, was reluctantly put into Test cricket to toil hard on dead tracks and probably disappear someday. Life, however, decided to change his fate. He managed to produce magic in the deserts of UAE, claiming 17 wickets in two Test matches against Australia, hence making a strong case for him to be considered for the 2019 World Cup, where conditions might just suit him even better.

Mohammad Abbas reacts during day two of the Second Test match between Australia and Pakistan on October 17, 2018 in Abu Dhabi. Photo: Getty

In a side that already has likes of Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Usman Shinwari and Faheem Ashraf in its arsenal, Shaheen and Abbas are creating havoc for automatic selections when it comes to fast bowling.

Among the three fast bowlers who led the pace attack in Pakistan’s inspirational Champions Trophy victory, two are already no longer viable for an automatic selection anymore. Ali is the only one holding onto his spot, while Junaid and Amir have faced the axe from the playing XI. That should tell you something about Pakistan’s fast bowling resources at the moment.

Amir’s flight back to domestic cricket leaves us a lot to think about. Is this a mere slap on the wrist for Pakistan’s premium fast bowler to get his act together before the World Cup, or is he out of the race altogether? Despite Amir’s reputation and fan base, it is hard for me to imagine him making the cut for the series next year. Unless he produces magical spells in the upcoming Pakistan Super League (PSL 4), he seems to be running out of time to make a comeback into the team before May.

Mohammad Amir takes flight after picking up a wicket during the 2017 Champions Trophy Final. Photo: Getty

Junaid, Amir’s opening spell partner, is an unsung hero. His stats are almost identical to Amir, if not better, but for some odd reason, he never managed to garner the same love from viewers and selectors alike. He is usually selected to warm the bench, and occasionally asked to play when everyone else has failed. Whether he will play in the World Cup games or not is anyone’s guess, but out of the three fast bowlers from the Champions Trophy, Ali is most likely to be the only one to remain part of the squad.

Junaid Khan celebrates after dismissing Bangladesh batsman Liton Das during the 2018 Asia Cup on September 26, 2018. Photo: Getty

Ali is currently the only fast bowler who comes close to an automatic selection for Pakistan’s ODI side. However, recent performances have landed him in hot water as well. Questions regarding his dip in form are circulating in the media and while he hasn’t been completely ineffective, he is leaking runs more than usual. A few more ordinary outings could mean he will be “rested” in order for someone like Shinwari to have a crack at the opposition.

Hasan Ali celebrates a wicket during the Champions Trophy Final at The Oval in London on June 18, 2017. Photo: Getty

Shinwari has been sitting on the fence and waiting to cement his place. Whenever given an opportunity, he has looked brilliant at times and a work in progress at others. It’s hard to gauge where his form currently stands but if anything, he is giving all the other regular bowlers a run for their money.

Like Shinwari, Ashraf finds himself in a similar scenario where he constantly has his legs in between being in and out of the unit. He could be opening the bowling attack for Pakistan one day and then sitting out the very next game. If I was Ashraf, I would be humming “one day you’re screaming you love me loud, the next day you’re so cold” in the dressing room, close to the coach.

Usman Shinwari takes five wickets in 21 deliveries to complete series whitewash against Sri Lanka in October 2017. Photo: AFP

Ashraf was introduced as a batsman who could provide some lower order fire power and be a part-time bowling option for the captain. As it turns out, fireworks from his bat are yet to be seen, but his bowling has proven to be far more effective than predicted. He is faster than he seems and more eager to pick up wickets than you may think. It would be unjustified to count him out of the contentions for bowling choices alone.

Faheem Ashraf bowls during play on day three of Ireland’s inaugural test match against Pakistan in Dublin on May 13, 2018. Photo: Getty

As Shaheen keeps clipping away with a handful of wickets every game and Abbas is knocking the door louder than ever before, I am glad to not be in the selector’s shoes right now.

Whether they favour form or experience will ultimately decide who has better chances of making the squad for the World Cup next year. Shaheen and Abbas are peaking at the right time, but a singular occasion like the World Cup could require some heavy weight names like Amir and Junaid to retain their spots.

The next few months and upcoming games are going to be critical for every bowler to have a last chance at making a case for themselves. If I had to give my two cents, I would say Ali, Shaheen, Ashraf and Junaid will make the squad for the 2019 World Cup, but given Pakistan’s unpredictability, I would be surprised if my prediction actually turned out to be accurate.

Hamza Junaid

Hamza Junaid

The author is an avid cricket follower and plays for a team called Gladiators based in New York. He tweets as @hamza_junaid1 (twitter.com/hamza_junaid1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Jahangir Pirzada

    Muhammad Amir is best choise among these… keeping his performance in mind, he break the back bone of Indian team in ICC Champions trophy…Recommend

  • https://newslink.pk Newslink

    yes muhammad amir is the best choise.Recommend

  • Ahsan Iqbal

    Good article. However, no mention of Ruman Raees? He was also part of CT2017 team. Dont know whether he is fit to play or not; but I believe he is better than Shinwari.
    Also I am afraid that the unpredictability of PCB might grant a ticket for Wahab Riaz after PSL 19.Recommend

  • Sufiyan

    I agree. It’s very hard to pick the pace attack for the upcoming world cup. It’s hard to tell with Abbas however. We know he can produce magic with the red ball but is he really that good with the white ball in hand? We don’t know because we haven’t seen much of him in white ball cricket. Shaheen has been wonderful in the recent series in the UAE, however, the world cup is a big stage and is a totally different ball game altogether. That doesn’t mean we count him out, it just means that Amir can still make a come back given his unforgettable performance in the Champions Trophy last year which was also held in England. I’d go with Shaheen, Amir, Hassan and Ashraf. If anyone’s form dips, you bring in Junaid.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    @Jahangir I hope you realize that was over a year ago. Since then he has been ordinary and finally sent back to domestic cricket. But i would mention that English conditions might make him a strong contender.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Interesting to see support for Amir. I thought people would have counted him out after a whole year of ordinary performances after CT final. If there is support for him still then he might just be back in squad for world cup.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Thank you Ahsan. I did have Ruman Raees back of my mind but he hasnt been playing for a while due to injury and meanwhile other bowlers have made a place for themselves in One Day format. I also think he is pretty good but maybe more fit for T20 format than one days. And lets just hope Wahab doesnt make a suprize comeback…Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    The most surprising aspect of the whole discussion is the popular vote for Amir to be back for world cup. If he does come back then it means coach/captain just wanted him to get his act together nothing else. As for Abbas, yes there is a lot of uncertainty if he can produce same results with white ball in hand but its a gamble that the coach might consider taking as he can be the surprize package. Either way the upcoming months are really important for every bowler to be on top of his game becuase the competition among fast bowlers in the side currently is tough.Recommend

  • ahmed

    Amir is the only world class bowler we have ….most teams don’t cut their main strike bowler due a slight dip in the form. However I feel like a good race horse owner you should have multiple horses in the race and play them who is better for which match…Also it will keep them fresh and won’t fatigue them.Recommend

  • Waqas

    Good article Hamza and very valid point, I think selectors should give Abbas a chance in South Africa series to see how he performs with the white ball, and Hassan Ali should be rested to bring him down the ground.Recommend

  • Tamoor Faisal

    With current team setup best bowling options would be Shaheen, Ashraf, Hassan Ali and Shadab Khan. Both Ashraf and Shadab can be handy with the bat too and that definitely much needed in English conditions as our great batting line is so reliable ;-PRecommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    It seems he will be back. There is strong support for him despite his lean patch. I guess good to take him in squad at leastRecommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    I think a lot will depend on how Abbas performs in the upcoming tests against New Zealand. If he manages to pick up a lot of wickets then selectors will feel the pressure to give him a go in One Day format too.Recommend

  • Hamza Junaid

    Good picks Tamoor but its hard for me to imagine that PCB will leave both Junaid and Amir out. One of them will travel with the team as a senior.Recommend

  • Patwari

    All these jokers, called cricket players, should be on notice. No free money. No parchi/lifafa.
    Consistent winning performance. Day in and day out. If they cannot deliver, be gone.
    Work for Punjab govt. Easy regular paycheck, for doing nothing. Good job. Good benefits.
    Cricket ‘aint’ for you. Only winners who believe in teamwork, need to apply. No lone wolf. Or
    “Lone Ranger” with big egos that fit a suitcase, wanted,…or need to apply..Recommend