The fact that Moin & his fellow selectors eschewed the temptation to go back and pluck out Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal from semi oblivion shows that the selection of the World Cup squad has been made more on merit than on hope; something that I had feared in my last column. Yes, hope is there in the shape of picking Hafeez as a batsman when he will not be bowling unless he passes the official biometrics test which I feel he will decline to give. Yes it is there in taking along a circumspect Younis Khan though a team sport needs someone with his intelligence and calming influence in the field. And yes it is there in the form of Ehsan Adil, a bowler who is quite injury prone and hasn’t done much in 2014.
But in once and for all deciding that the oft used and abused word of ‘experience’ as a basis for carting along totally spent cartridges will not hold water Moin & Co. have taken a forward step. I qualify ‘spent’ with ‘totally’ because Younis and Hafeez are still in the team and Younus has clearly stated that this is his farewell appearance. They have also risked more than the previous selectors would do. Then the tactic was to bring in anyone for a big event who once had a name and if –rather when– they failed to hide behind the excuse that if the best and most experienced couldn’t deliver, there was nothing they could have done. Total hogwash it was of course.
Now the current selectors may be put questions if Pakistan returns earlier than the semi finals as to whether they erred by taking players who had no, or little, experience of Australian and New Zealand pitches, or had not the wherewithal to take the pressure of playing in the World Cup. As such the more conservative ones would have picked players like Mohammad Sami, Sohail Tanvir, Nasir Jamshed and of course the duo of Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik. But Moin Khan is his announcement was clear he would be here to take the flak if that happened but for now he was backing these 15.
Nevertheless I am terribly disappointed that Fawad Alam did not make the squad. He is the ideal player for a World Cup situation and had shown form and grit in his performances in the first half of the Pentangular Cup. I can understand where the selectors were coming from. He had to fight for a place in the middle order where Sohaib Maqsood and Umar Akmal were the other options and I would have picked both any day.
But in the presence of four fast bowlers, perhaps a fifth in the form of Ehsan Adil may have been dispensed with and an extra batsman like Fawad brought in who can also bowl left arm spin. The question arises, yes, whether he could have been preferred over any one from Younis, Haris or Umar/Sohaib, Misbah being a constant. My answer is that it would have made all four conscious of their performance and would have given Pakistan an excellent fielding substitute if nothing else.
The selectors have taken a mighty gamble in selecting only one specialist opener in Ahmed Shahzad. I say one because his supporters can label him an opener all they want but Hafeez has disappointed in that role for the past few years, putting up some runs only when the pitches are soft and the pace attack contains no big name. I would play Hafeez any day in the limited-over sides because of his bowling and bat him lower down. But now with the prospect of him going in as specialist batsman he certainly doesn’t merit a place in the first XI.
Maybe In his heart of hearts Moin thinks so too but has taken pitiful measure for that by saying that Sarfraz is back up. I say that because knowing that Pakistan had paucity at the top Sarfraz should have been tried in this role in the five ODIs against New Zealand. It is distinctly different than opening in T20 and any opener would tell you that. The selectors have perhaps relied on his experience of doing so in domestic cricket.
But as I had written then, Hafeez was persevered with knowing he would get runs on such pitches against a none-too-threatening opening attack. That part of the selectors plan has worked. If anything I would have picked Sharjeel in the 15 instead of Hafeez. Yes, he hasn’t set the pace when given several opportunities in the past year but hasn’t Hafeez been given years of the same? Sharjeel would have allowed a left-right opening combination and is equally, if not more likely, to have scored at least as many runs as Hafeez might.
I am nevertheless happy that Sohail Khan has at last been given his due. He has been performing admirably in domestic cricket and as Moin pointed out the selectors decided that Pakistan first class cricket has to be given importance. Sohail can generate good pace and bounce but if he plays he must be held back from spraying it around too much in his excitement. A good coach and analyst will show him, and in fact all the fast bowlers, how the Indian pace attack has suffered on the current Australian tour by bowling short of a length.
Sad for players like Bilawal Bhatti and Anwar Ali who had emerged with such aplomb in South Africa and seemed to be the answer for Pakistan’s search for all rounders. Tough luck for Raza Hassan and Zulfiqar Babar also, both of whom have done well in limited-over formats whenever given the opportunity. I would have thought that just like the option of trying Fawad Alam for Ehsan Adil, the selectors could have gone for one of them in his place. I suppose the emergence of Haris Sohail as a reasonably restrictive left armer and who also took some important wickets, sealed their fate.
Important thing to conclude here is that the selectors announced this in a press conference and Moin took the questions confidently, showing he had no guilt feelings and has nothing to hide. I think the selection has been done with sincerity and the selectors deserve credit for that. Now it is up to these fifteen players to back them up come February 15.