The Pakistan side has left for England, where after the tour fixtures they will take on the hosts in a five-match ODI series. That series would be preceded by a solitary T20I, and followed by warm-up matches before the World Cup starts on May 30.
The 15-man preliminary squad for the World Cup, and 17-man touring squad for the England series – which works as the extended lineup with reserves for the World Cup – have been announced. And the final 15 have a few changes from the squad that we predicted in this space: three to be precise.
Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (captain), Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Abid Ali, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Imad Wasim, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, Faheem Ashraf, Junaid Khan, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Hasnain
Abid Ali in place of Mohammed Rizwan, Junaid Khan for Mohammed Amir and Mohammad Hasnain for Usman Shinwari are the three deviations from the predicted squad. That prediction had come with the disclaimer that it wasn’t an endorsement, but a shortlist of the likeliest candidates. And two of these three moves we would like to wholeheartedly endorse here.
For the longest time Mohammed Rizwan has been the backup keeper for Sarfraz, and while his keeping skills are solid, there has been a question mark over his batting – especially in limited-overs formats. Ironically, he has been replaced after his best showings with the bat. However, there is little doubt that in a one-on-one shootout, Abid Ali is a significantly better batsman than Rizwan, as depicted by his sustained performances domestically. Unfortunately, Abid has only got to play two ODIs for Pakistan, where he got a century and a duck against Australia, but showed enough in the former to keep both Rizwan as the backup wicket-keeping batsman and Shan Masood as the opener at bay.
The biggest question marks over the squad before the announcement were over the fast-bowling contingent. And we got both of the two places up for grabs wrong in our predictions. However, again, that came with the asterisk that Junaid Khan is usually the one hard done by, therefore his selection in the squad is a pleasant surprise, and of the four in contention for those three spots – five if you include Wahab Riaz – he is arguably the pick of the lot in terms of performances, despite the injury setbacks.
Of the remaining three, Hasnain was preferred over Amir, the one with the highest billing, and Shinwari, the one with the best numbers in recent times. That remains the single most contentious decision by the selectors, followed by Asif Ali’s omission.
Amir has been picked on his reputation for a while now, and has been dropped from the side in recent months owing to a sustained failure to match that inflated stature. Shinwari, meanwhile, has been too inconsistent against top sides, and most of his impressive numbers are based on showings against the lesser sides.
Given that Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi will spearhead the attack, Faheem Ashraf would be the third choice – with his unfulfilled ability with the bat also pushing him up the pecking order – and Junaid Khan is number four, the additional bowler isn’t going to get much game time in all likelihood. So the selectors decided to invest in the future, which they clearly believe shines brighter for Hasnain than it does for Shinwari.
Similarly, Asif’s omission has raised eyebrows, coupled with the inclusion of Shoaib Malik – which has been done purely on the basis of the number of matches that he has played more so than any current showings. However, Asif’s case is weakened by his failure to do much in the 50 over format, having proved himself to be a force in T20s.
In Asif’s absence, Pakistan lack power-hitting ability. That would mean that more often than not they’d be relying on bowlers to win matches at the World Cup – which of course has been the story of Pakistan cricket throughout its history.
Yasir Shah has been called up to the England squad, given that Shadab Khan has had to withdraw with an illness. The window is open for everyone in the upcoming series to shine and force their way into the final 15 – especially if there are injury withdrawals. This is especially true for Asif and Amir, should they do anything of note in England, given that they have many backers among those creating noise for their World Cup selection: for the right or wrong reasons.