HAVE THE SELECTORS FAILED THE FIRST TEST OF INDEPENDENCE? by Sohaib Alvi
I had written last week that the truest test of Haroon and fellow selectors will come with the announcement of the squad to Bangladesh, their first task as the new selection committee. They have taken the first step but have they given an ear to the adage: “Watch out for the first step”?
You see, important was not who they select but how they select. Also, will it reveal a policy statement that they might not convey overtly? After all selection is a long term game. It’s like chess. You play to a strategy and plan several moves ahead. You also have to prioritise who you will send ahead for the first charge and whether you have picked the knight or the rook or the bishop to deliver your check mate.
While the selection committee has done well to give a chance to some deserving players, one or two of whom should have been a regular by now, the observation is that they have played to the coach’s tune.
Waqar has clearly influenced the selection by his report following the World Cup. It was ostensible after the failure of the team to progress beyond the quarterfinals that scapegoats will be picked to hide the inadequacies or garbled mindset of the coach and fellow tour selectors and both Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad were standing like rabbits trapped in the headlights on the highway.
Both have themselves to blame nevertheless for falling under the axe considering their injudicious choice of strokes and ill timed ones at that. Not that Sohaib Maqsood did any better but why he survived the purge was that his mode of dismissals appeared more genuine. Now he is out with a thinly fractured arm so it doesn’t matter except that Pakistan will suddenly have a refurbished top and middle order without him, Misbah, Younus Khan and Umar Akmal while they also go in with a new opener and a bowling all rounder as Shahid Afridi has also gone. Reminds me of the post 2003 scenario where out went Saeed Anwar, Inzamam, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Saqlain Mushtaq, though Inzi and Saqlain returned with contrasting fortunes. At least the fast bowling is intact somewhat; Irfan has gone out for medical reasons.
But coming to the soft targets. I can’t understand that if it is for disciplinary reasons how have the selectors arrived at the sentence without first getting a report from a Disciplinary Committee that should have been formed or at least demanded by the selectors. Can a manager’s report and that of the coach who were themselves guilty of not reading the games be taken as the final say? Should not the PCB Chairman have appointed someone to get Ahmed Shahzad’s and Umar Akmal’s side of the story?
In many ways Shahid Afridi clearly defined that he was playing for his own self. Not necessarily selfishly but refusing to adapt to the requirements of the game in play. Should he not have been penalised for indiscipline in batting? For not giving team need priority? Should he also not have been stripped of the Twenty20 captaincy for showing a careless attitude? After all can a player show responsibility in leadership when not showing it while playing as an ordinary member of the side?
In fact, Afridi has been totally untouched. To the extent that he has managed to secure a place in the side for Ahmed Shahzad in the Twenty20 team which he leads. So do disciplinary measures apply to two formats and not the third one? There is the news that with the World Twenty20 a year away some element of consistency is required and there is little time for rebuilding. In that case shouldn’t Umar Akmal feature too as he is an important cog in the side for that tournament with his fielding and blistering batting in a format where his style of play and lack of application for longer than 5 overs is not an issue?
Through this move can be seen how helpless the selectors seem to be at the hands of two opposing forces, Waqar Younis and Shahid Afridi and with the directive of the chairman on discipline. Afridi has clearly come down heavy on the selectors with his demand for at least Shahzad. If it had been the issue of form it would have been appropriate for the selectors to give the captain the benefit of doubt. But in the case of indiscipline it shows that Haroon and his fellow selectors stand for little when it comes to demands laid down by the captain. The reasoning that they must give the captain a consultation does not apply here.
Also have they shown the seeds of future discontent between Shahzad and the new ODI captain, Azhar Ali, by revealing inadvertently that the captain did not fight for Shahzad’s place in the side as did Afridi?
There are also gaps in their logic for overall strategy as I say again that they have done well to give some younger aspirants a chance this time. The gap is in the logic of playing Junaid in the longest format but not the ODI one. Is it that Waqar Younis and Azhar Ali have prevailed on them that they want to retain Ehsan Adil? And give him some rope against a batting side that has shown potential but still can be more vulnerable than the top sides against whom Ehsan would have struggled? Is this an opportunity to get him to play a few games?
Haroon had talked of Hammad Azam in some of his appearances on TV. So where is the youngster who did so well last time he played in Bangladesh a few years ago. At least when Sohaib Maqsood with drew he could have been inserted considering he is from the same batch as Babar Azam? They have gone in for Saad Nasim when he didn’t do much last time he was given an opportunity. Have they totally written off Hammad? It would be a travesty of justice.
But to end on a positive note the selectors have done well overall in giving some fringe players the opportunity to show if they are made of a tougher mettle. There is talk of whether Saeed Ajmal should have gone without first showing his worth with the new action in the first class format. I would say the selectors have done the right thing. The season has ended and there is more international cricket in the summer before the next one starts. Holding him back would have meant six to seven months and to test him now against Bangladesh makes sense.
I can’t say the same for Hafeez’s inclusion in the ODI and T20 teams. He may justify to some extent his place in the Test side but since he has yet to clear his bowling action he can’t merit a place in the limited over formats playing purely as a batsman.
With all this in mind I just feel the selectors have been swayed by outside influence in some cases. Nevertheless, it’s a young side and we must back them for now.