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Batsmen on merit, bowlers on hope

After a long time, it seems that the team has been selected on merit, give or take the odd favourite accommodated

Batsmen on merit, bowlers on hope
Sadly, analysts are remembered only for the negatives and not for the positives by officials and players they comment on. Especially by those who have more to answer.

So let me say here that in one of my previous columns I wrote that despite my severe disagreements with Najam Sethi for the job, he had at least shown signs of bringing in more recently retired cricketers in team management and selection, and that he seemed to be less interfering than other chairmen before him, with the exception of Sheheryar Khan who hardly knew what went on in the team anyway.

Well, Sethi’s handpicked six have selected a touring team which I think is one of the most sensible ones in recent times and merit seems to have been factored in rather than nepotism.

I am especially delighted that Sarfraz Ahmed has been retained as wicketkeeper, preferred over Adnan Akmal. But not picking Sarfraz for the shorter format after a blistering match winning innings in the last Test against Sri Lanka is grossly unfair. He had showed that he can bat even when there is no field restriction.

By that I refer to another point made in a couple of my previous columns. Sarfraz’s batting was judged as weak without taking into account that his Tests innings had been on the faster and bouncier pitches of Australia and South Africa whereas Adnan Akmal, his main rival, had played almost all his Test innings in Sri Lanka and UAE. Pitches are flatter in Asia and the opposition used more spin than pace. Adnan was found wanting against both South Africa and Sri Lanka in the UAE; in fact he couldn’t tackle Imran Tahir and the Sri Lankan bowlers.

Dropping Hafeez was a no-brainer but then Hafeez had always been given a new lease of life in previous years despite his failings.

So this time Moin & Co has to be applauded for carrying through their faith in Azhar at No 3 and Khurram as opener, two people Hafeez had kept out in recent times when playing as an opener or one-down.

The way Azhar took the centre stage in chasing down the target in the final two sessions of the Sharjah Test has hopefully blocked Hafeez for good.

If anyone from among Khurram, Shan Masood and Azhar is to fail against Sri Lanka and then Australia, I sincerely pray that Hafeez would not be brought back and instead younger top-order batsmen performing in domestic cricket would be tested.

I feel for Fawad Alam not being in the Test side. He is made for the five-day game. He can block as well as pick away singles and doubles and rotate the strike; he also has the temperament and dedication to stay at the wicket. He can settle in and consistently play the role Shivnarine Chanderpaul has played for West Indies over the years. I would have taken him instead of Umar Akmal, not because Umar doesn’t deserve another shot at Test cricket but because Fawad has already proven that his attitude is better with a Test average of 40-plus.

I am surprised at Younis Khan’s selection in the ODI side. Let me say here that Younis is one of the cricketers in the world who have made the game proud because of the passion they show for the game.

He is also a brilliant thinker, team man, fitness fanatic and a class Test player.

But I don’t see him in the ODI squad. The failures of Hafeez, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal have made him look a better choice but Younis is a slow starter and more often than not eats up a lot of balls early. We already have Misbah playing the role of stabilizer and of course the presence of Hafeez in this format will further compound the problem when quick runs are needed.

I would have gone for a younger batsman like Asif Zakir who scored around 450 runs in one day games last season or Sami Aslam with 245 runs in three or Saeed Anwar with two hundreds in the President’s Cup; even Faisal Iqbal for that matter with over 400 runs and four fifties plus a hundred.

Younis has one half century in his last 12 or so ODI innings (some six under the score of 10) despite being in the top order.

When it comes to the bowlers I feel Misbah will struggle in both formats. Muhammad Irfan and Umar Gul are injured (not that Gul has infused confidence in recent times) and seeing guys like Rahat Ali boarding the plane is disappointing.

Wahab Riaz is a conundrum; he can be either good or very bad. Talha is still untested. Hammad Azam who took the same number of wickets (14) as Wahab and Rahat did combined deserves to be placed above them, especially since he is an all-rounder and proved his mettle with both bat and ball in the final of the 2012 Asia Cup in Dhaka after which he was discarded.

Sohail Khan last season took 20 wickets at 13.25 but the selectors have preferred Talha who took three wickets at an average of 41 each.

Persisting with Abdul Rehman is questionable after his suspicious beamers culled Pakistan’s attack in a game a few weeks back. He may be good on his day but you can’t allow someone to get away with that, especially when you have Zulfiqar Babar, who has been taken for the ODIs but not Tests.

I am disappointed too that Bilawal Bhatti has been dropped from the ODI squad but I presume since there was place for only one lower order all-rounder Anwar Ali has been given the opportunity after Bilawal fell in the Twenty20 World Cup.

Nevertheless, as I said in the beginning, it is a more promising selection than when PCB used to support the confirmed failures like Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez.

After a long time, one can feel that the team has been selected on merit, give or take the odd favourite accommodated. In Pakistan that seems unlikely to go away.

Sohaib Alvi

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