People who have been critical of Mohammad Hafeez must now be realising his value for the team. The ban on his bowling has created a big problem for the selectors as they now find it difficult to form a team which has enough options to bowl the complete 50 overs in the World Cup.
Although Haris Sohail has done well with the ball as well as bat in the series against New Zealand, he remains too inexperienced to be relied upon for the mega event. He certainly has the potential of becoming an all-rounder at the top level, but expecting him to shoulder the responsibility of the fifth bowler in the side would be very unfair to this young man.
I don’t think Pakistan have had this problem for the last 25 years. In the 1990s, we had two batsmen capable of bowling very effectively in ODIs. With Amir Sohail and Saleem Malik in the team, the captains of that period had little problem in completing the 50 overs even if a main bowler got injured during the match. Amir took 134 wickets in 156 matches and Saleem 89 from 283 matches.
Then in late 1996, three players made debut for Pakistan all of whom went on to become excellent all-rounders: Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, and Azhar Mahmood. These three players gave depth to Pakistan’s batting and variety in bowling. It was because of Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mahmood that Waqar Younis played only one match in the World Cup 1999. How blessed the selectors of that era were!
Then came Shoaib Malik who was initially selected as a bowler. But he developed himself into an all-rounder. About three years later Hafeez arrived. So Pakistan was never — during the period under review — in the position in which they are now. Destitute in all-rounders.
Fawad Alam has the capability to play this role for the team. He bowls regularly in domestic cricket, and has also bowled for Pakistan in ODIs and Twenty20 games, with five wickets in the former and eight in the latter format.
In the absence of Hafeez, Misbah and Afridi have had to trust Ahmed Shehzad and Haris Sohail for completing 50 overs in the series against New Zealand. While Haris has impressed everyone also as a bowler, Ahmad Shehzad hasn’t been able to do that.
Some people have said that Shoaib Malik should be picked to fill this void as he has played this role for Pakistan for a number of years. It’s certainly true, but over the years he has become more of a specialist batsman than a batting all-rounder. Besides, his inclusion in the team is likely to create rifts in the team as has been the case before several times. Whenever he is in the team, we hear about grouping in the team.
In these circumstances Fawad remains the best choice for the position of batting all-rounder. If we have both Fawad and Haris in the playing XI, the captain — whether it’s Afridi or Misbah — will have more than five bowlers, which will make his job easier as it was for Wasim Akram in World Cup 1999.
If Pakistan team is to do well in the World Cup, they will have to include Fawad. Otherwise we might end up having Misbah and Younis Khan bowling in the World Cup.