So it’s official. We will go into the World Cup without Saeed Ajmal. There had been the fear this would happen but the suddenness with which it hit us was unexpected. It was a matter-of-fact message from the bowler himself, ratified immediately by PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan, which quelled any potential rumour that it might be taken back.
It’s a complete downer even though it had been said by many experts that Ajmal would not be that effective without his doosra. The earlier news that had filtered itself through a few weeks back that his action while bowling the regular off break was as good as cleared counted for nothing after this announcement. He would not bowl at all in the World Cup. Period.
Now what will haunt the selectors all the way to January 7 will be whether Hafeez gets a nod of approval in Chennai. It is an unofficial test so the results won’t count until he gets himself cleared by ICC through a test that they will organise. I’m not sure if the ICC will give the same leeway to PCB for selecting Hafeez as they had allowed for Ajmal — that he could be picked for World Cup and if he didn’t clear the test he could be replaced. Ideally they should for all bowlers facing this problem.
I wish PCB had done what I had suggested in these columns when Hafeez was first called in the Champions League and that was not to bowl him internationally till the business end of the World Cup. If he had then been called he would have had three weeks margin to keep bowling and could have bowled only in the knock out games—all the way to the final if Pakistan were to make it.
The West Indian Cricket Board did exactly that when Sunil Narine was called in the CLT20. They dropped him immediately from the international games and will play him in the World Cup with exactly the strategy I have put forward here. PCB I think has missed a trick perhaps convinced by specialists that Hafeez had remodeled his action following the CLT20 umpires’ call on his action.
But in a way it is good that PCB have not insisted that Ajmal reconsider. Any uncertainly would have left all planning up in the air and not allowed any time for the alternative to take root. Now at least the selectors can call up Zulfiqar Babar, Yasir Shah or any other specialist spinner they have up their sleeve and work longer with him. Who that will be will be revealed hopefully by January 7 which is the deadline set by ICC to sort out all the final squads.
I just hope Yasir Shah makes it to the final squad. I have enormous belief in him making life difficult for batsmen on Australian pitches, at least enough to make them constrained in scoring freely, which is when you get their wickets. He wasn’t played in the New Zealand ODI series and when I put the question to Moin Khan he said that he doesn’t need to be tested or given exposure in ODIs to be considered for the World Cup.
Perhaps he was called up to put some pressure on Shahid Afridi to bowl better leg breaks. Selectors do this sometimes to get the best out of anyone who could get complacent. But if he was included for this reason it is laughable for who in his right mind would think that Shahid would be scared to lose his place in the World Cup to Yasir Shah!
And if Pakistan can attack with three left arm pacemen they can attack with two leg spinners. In the 1992 World Cup Pakistan played both Mushtaq Ahmed and Iqbal Sikander in a couple of games, and if they include Zulfiqar Babar they will still turn to Haris Sohail, who’s likely to be included after a stellar performance in the series against the Kiwis.
I hope the selectors include Fawad Alam in the squad. It’s sad that when it comes to certain players memories become short. After all it was a few months back that he was scoring a hundred in the Asia Cup; his recent downer in the ODI series against Australia was apparently given more consideration when dropping him for the ODI matches against New Zealand. Moin, referring to Fawad, implied in an interview recently that he doesn’t want too many of the same kind in the batting, pointing perhaps to the fact that Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad Shafiq and Haris Sohail all play the same way as Fawad.
It’s amusing that despite this explanation he has played all four in the New Zealand series! If anything, including Fawad Alam in place of say, Asad Shafiq adds a left-hander to a line-up dominated by right handed batsmen. And there’s nothing wrong in playing two or three if the selectors decide to take Nasir Jamshed and Haris Sohail and play one or both of them in the final eleven.
Fawad also adds a bowling option for the captain, something that Haris Sohail provided and will do as well. Just for that and the fact that he is a brilliant fielder he should be taken to the World Cup.
Surely the biggest headache for the selectors would be whom to pick from among the faster bowlers. It is not just form or the ability to control line and length on bouncier and more tempting pitches of Australia and New Zealand. It is fitness. There is just about no one who can be trusted to last the tournament. Irfan is fit for now but can he take the stress over six weeks on the harder grounds of Australia remains a big question mark.
Junaid will be on trial in the Pentangular games; the fact that he’s been named as captain of the KP side shows that the selectors have been given a reassurance by the PCB medical team that the news is good. Wahab Riaz was initially advised rest by the coaching staff when he returned from the UAE but he had to appear for NBP and bowled with quite a level of restraint so as not to stretch the muscles too much. His fitness will have to be explored in the Pentangular Cup.
Sohail Tanvir and Imran Khan are among the fitter ones as well but Sohail is likely the more favoured if one is chosen between them. Experience will be sited for Sohail, though it hasn’t been enough to get Pakistan out of tough situations in majority of cases in the recent past.
In the end I have a feeling that the selectors will put their faith on the 15 more in hope than their ability to deliver. It has been the case with almost all teams that have been selected for at least the last three World Cups. And not much changes in PCB when it comes to selections.