World Cup fever: Who will make the cut?
Pakistan’s squad for the upcoming ICC World Cup will be announced this week, April 18th. Some of the players that will manage to make a place for themselves in the team are fairly obvious. Sarfraz Ahmed will of course lead the side as captain while also fulfilling his duties behind the stumps. In the bowling department, pacers Shaheen Afridi and Hasan Ali will help lead the charge while Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim will spearhead the spin attack. The batting line-up will undoubtedly include regulars Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman and Mohammad Hafeeez.
However, which players will be able to nab the remaining spots in the squad is being hotly debated by Pakistani cricket fans.
So, let’s tackle the fast-bowlers first.
Mohammad Amir has been heavily criticised for his lack of wickets since the 2017 Champions Trophy and his alarmingly high average in recent matches has been a cause for concern. But what the critics tend to ignore is that he has maintained a low economy rate, which is an important factor considering scores of above 300 are now a norm in one-day internationals (ODIs). However, a deeper look at the statistics of his fellow pacers reveals that their economy rate is only slightly higher. Therefore, considering recent performances, most would wager that Amir has not justified his inclusion in the team. In my opinion however, we can’t put too much emphasis on statistics alone.
The fact of the matter is that Amir has consistently delivered in the big matches and has proven himself to be a real match-winner. Furthermore, in a pressure situation, a bowler like Usman Shinwari is more likely to lose the plot and leak a lot of runs, while Amir can readily provide a certain degree of stability by controlling the run rate. Amir is a player who embodies the maxim, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man,’ since he always rises to the occasion, with the most obvious example being his performance against India in the final of the Champions Trophy.
Given the right bowling conditions, Amir can be absolutely lethal. Thus, I would include him in the squad despite his recent spate of lacklustre performances.
So that leaves us with two bowling spots still left since Pakistan would most likely go for five pacers in the squad. Some Pakistani cricket fans might leave out Junaid Khan, but I beg to differ. He is a wicket-taking bowler and can be handy while opening the bowling and in the middle phase as well. Khan has proven himself to be a hardworking, reliable bowler whom the captain can always turn to. I believe that his consistency should earn him a place in the squad.
So that leaves us with either Faheem Ashraf or Shinwari to fill the last bowling spot. It’s a difficult call. On the face of it, leaving out Shinwari would seem unfair considering he has been the best fast bowler of late, while Ashraf hasn’t shown any brilliance with the ball in hand. Other than the five wickets he took against a poor Zimbabwean side, Ashraf has been an average bowler. Plus, his batting has been unimpressive and he has failed to earn the title of a genuine all-rounder despite the team management giving him ample chances to prove his mettle with the bat.
So, am I in favour of Shinwari? Not entirely. He is a boom or bust kind of bowler. On a good day, he can win you matches with a fiery spell, but on a bad day he can be thrashed severely and in doing so can cost the team heavily.
I also have a sneaking suspicion that the English playing conditions will favour Ashraf’s style of play. As a result, I’m picking Ashraf, who is perhaps the safer option out of the two.
Now, let’s talk about the openers.
Who should open the innings alongside Zaman? Should it be Imamul Haq or Abid Ali? Well, the right-handed Ali has only played two ODIs, so we can only judge him based on those two performances – a century followed by a first ball duck. His debut century was good, but nothing extraordinary, though it would be unfair to expect too much from a newcomer.
Haq, however, has to improve his strike rate if he wishes to become an accomplished ODI batsman. He is too slow in the beginning phase of his innings even though he tends to make up for it later on. The problem arises when he consumes so many deliveries and gets out in his 20’s or 30’s, which inadvertently disrupts the flow of the innings.
So, in a long international tournament like the World Cup, I’d include a back-up opener like Ali to substitute for either Haq or Zaman in case any one of the two fail to deliver.
Then comes the middle order, and I have to pick only one player out of Shoaib Malik, Haris Sohail and Mohammad Rizwan.
For most individuals, the inclusion of Malik is a no-brainer. Well, I thought so too, but my opinion has changed after the recent Pakistan-Australia ODI series.
Malik’s susceptibility against pace is well-known, but it’s his ability to smack spinners out of the ground that has always stood out. However, in recent series, Malik has appeared to be vulnerable against spin as well. So what’s the use of his vast experience if he can’t contribute with the bat and the bowl (he rarely bowls nowadays anyway)?
Moreover, his captaincy in the first three matches against Australia in the recent series was abysmal to say the least. That means he will be of no use to the captain if he needs a helping hand while making crucial decisions on the field. While Malik’s fielding is a plus point, it’s simply not enough to merit an inclusion in the team.
Both Sohail and Rizwan scored two centuries in the last international series, but both have one similar flaw in their batting: lacking ability to hit sixers. Rizwan, however, is better at strike rotation, plus he can be the reserve keeper and is a better fielder than Sohail. Although Sohail can bowl a few overs as a part-time bowler, I don’t think it’s a significant enough factor since his effectiveness as a spinner can’t be relied upon.
That is why Rizwan gets the nod.
Lastly, I’d include the big-hitter Asif Ali in the squad. Even though he has failed to cement his place in the side, I’d give him another chance bearing in mind there is no other option available. The thing is, we badly need one regular six-hitter in the team, and we saw the desperate need for such a player in the series against Australia. The current batting line-up has too many similar sorts of batsmen that can play the anchor role but struggle to change gears when the situation demands.
Therefore, after much deliberation, here are my picks for Pakistan’s 15- member World Cup squad:
- Fakhar Zaman
- Imamul Haq
- Babar Azam
- Mohammad Hafeez
- Sarfraz Ahmed
- Asif Ali
- Imad Wasim
- Shadab Khan
- Hasan Ali
- Mohammad Amir
- Shaheen Afridi
- Abid Ali
- Mohammad Rizwan
- Junaid Khan
- Faheem Ashraf
All photos: AFP
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