It’s never a good feeling to step into a colleague’s place because of his personal tragedy. But professionalism is all about putting personal feelings aside. And as a soldier in battle picks up the rifle of a fallen soldier and charges ahead so does the player in a team sport take the place of one who has fallen to injury.
As such Ahmed Shahzad’s loss will be the gain of either Taufeeq Umar or Shan Masood. That is unless the Pakistani think tank decides to open with Azhar Ali, push up Younus Khan to his once normal No.3 position and add Haris Sohail in the middle order.
All three options present divergent directions and will reveal what is the strategic thrust of PCB and not just that of the selectors or that of the coach and captain. If they go with Taufeeq Umar it will indicate that the reliance is still on the old guard, that experience is preferred and that the approach is to go for the tried and trusted.
If Moin, Waqar and Misbah (I’m still not aware who is vice captain) opt for Shan Masood then clearly they are looking to the future. Shan is on the right side of 30 compared to Taufeeq Umar.
If instead they push up Azhar to open, followed by the two senior citizens who have proven that they have a wealth of youthful abundance still in them, then Haris Sohail makes his mark in Tests. He had a superb century against the Australians, has a dynamic approach to batting and will show that domestic performance is rewarded.
The common thread running through all three options is that they all bat left-handed. This way they will at least bring some variety into the top six, in fact through the eleven as despite being left handed bowlers both Zulfiqar Babar and Rahat Ali bat right handed. Not that the Pakistani team need a left-hand batsman. This seems to be the time where if Misbah and Younus bat left-handed they could probably get a fifty each. But it nevertheless helps, especially if you need to unsettle the bowlers by rotating strike.
It’s going to be a tough question if the decision has to be totally merit based. All three have a case. And the situation is so much in favour of Pakistan and flexible that any of the three can be accommodated without causing any discomfort to the other ten players.
Taufeeq of course will be hoping for a call up. His has been a tragic case ever since he was sent back from South Africa where he revealed that he was not 100 percent fit. There have been tens of players who’ve travelled with the team many a time carrying an injury they hope will heal by the time of the opening international game there, only to feel they miscalculated. Some big names have been among them. But seldom has a player been reprimanded by being not considered even when he regained fitness, and especially when his replacements were at times awful in their performance.
When he was let go he had a career Test average of close to 40 from 43 Tests. He had returned to the Pakistan side in 2010 after Salman Butt had fixed his own fate in England.
In the 18 Tests that followed over the next two years or so Taufeeq scored over 1200 runs at an average of 38. This included a magnificent 236 against Sri Lanka in Abu Dhabi.
If he plays he can resurrect his career, though with Hafeez having booked his place for the next year and Shahzad in prime form, it is unlikely. Even if he scores plenty of runs in the next two Tests, it is unlikely he will be able to retain his place.
Shan is in a similar position, in fact a little worse. When someone is so young there is the feeling among the selectors that he has plenty of years in which to get an opportunity. And so he steps in now and then, unless he has a strong influence from outside.
Shan nevertheless has a case. When he made his Test debut he faced Steyn who was running rings around Hafeez. Shan got to 70-odd, but fell cheaply the next three times.
His more recent proof of performance is a fine half century he fetched against the tourists, though these matches have become more of practice games with everyone chipping in and no restrictions on the playing eleven.
But then the best place to blood youngsters is where the conditions suit the locals. As such it couldn’t be better this coming week, with the sun out, the pitches bland and the bowling blander.
The same logic holds for Haris Sohail. In fact I think he deserves a place in the Test eleven more than Shan, though they bat at different positions. Haris has been scoring more runs and is a greater talent than Shan, who bats with undue caution and has limited strokeplay.
In the innings when he scored 76 at Sharjah his strike rate was below 40 but then Haris scored an unbeaten 40 at the same strike rate in the second innings. Both were clearly batting for a position.
Haris really should have played in the Australian series ahead of Hafeez as opener. Azhar could have assumed that role. In fact Azhar literally opened in both innings, Hafeez going within minutes on opening day and in second innings unavailable because of injury. Haris had batted with sheer confidence against the Australians.