This piece is being written after the first innings of the third ODI between Australia and Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, with the visitors putting up 266-6. It would be a challenging total given the conditions, especially since Pakistan need a win to stay alive in the series.
While there has been much, well-deserved, criticism of Pakistan’s selection for the five match series, it is worth further questioning what exactly the team management was thinking.
There appears little justification for resting the likes of Sarfraz Ahmed, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi – and lastly, Faheem Ashraf. These seven would definitely make the first-choice 11 for Pakistan at the World Cup.
The ongoing ODI series is an extension of the Australian tour in October, where they played the Test and T20I series with Pakistan. Due to scheduling clashes, the ODI series had to be moved to March.
Notwithstanding the fact that any international match should be the priority for Pakistan’s top-tier cricketers, even over the Pakistan Super League, this series was an opportunity for the side to test themselves against a top international side before the World Cup.
Also, let’s not forget that this isn’t just a top international side. Australia are the defending champions of the World Cup for which, ostensibly, members of the First XI have been rested. Australia usually peak in time for the World Cup, which is why they are the most successful side in the premier ODI competition, as they recently exhibited in their come-from-behind win over India – another contender for the World Cup – before the Pakistan series. It just makes no sense for Pakistan to not have gone full-throttle for this five-match series.
There are no international commitments for Pakistan in April. In May, there is a five-match ODI series away to England, which would be treated as the buildup and preparation for the World Cup that begins later that month. What purpose, one has to ask, did this rest serve to Pakistan cricket?
One argument given by the management is that the team is trying different combinations before finalizing the squad for the World Cup. That would have made sense had the team management done that for the positions that are still up for grabs. The players that have been rested are those that are shoo-in for the World Cup squad – why not play them and see which of the remaining pool blend in the best with them?
After the selection faux pas, whatever little damage remained to be done was done by keeping Shoaib Malik as the captain for the series. He is probably the only man who had nothing to play for in the series. Despite his mixed form, he is guaranteed a place in the World Cup squad, following which, as he has already announced, he is likely to retire.
This series has been a missed opportunity for a full-strength Pakistan to test themselves against the world champions
Malik is not a captaincy contender for the long run, and hence it would’ve been better to let someone else lead the side – both after Sarfraz was banned in South Africa and in this series as well. Someone like Imad Wasim, Fakhar Zaman or Shadab Khan – those who have led their PSL sides – or anyone else, would have been a better choice, since they would have had much to play for.
The fourth ODI starts today (Friday), and Pakistan could be 2-1 down at best or the series would have been done and dusted. Pakistan could have gained a lot by overcoming an Australian side that would be defending its World Cup crown in England this year – one that has just beaten India to boot.
Whatever the team management feels they might have gained – perhaps the return of Umar Akmal for one – did not need a spree of rests for the team’s core.