The three former captains Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Ramiz Raja and the former cricketer and commentator Bazid Khan have unanimously picked nine players in their Pakistan squads for the upcoming World Cup.
Akram gave his squad exclusively to Cricingif while Waqar, Ramiz and Bazid mentioned their picks in the television commentary of the recently concluded ODI series against Australia.
The surprising unanimous pick is hard-hitting middle-order batsman Asif Ali, who smashed the highest number of sixes (26) and had the highest batting strike-rate (182.46) in PSL 2019.
Asif has not played in the ODIs since the New Zealand series last year in the UAE but his absence was felt in the ODI series against Australia which Pakistan lost 0-5 mainly because of the batsmen’s inability to pace up the innings in the last ten overs.
Asif Ali has been a unanimous pick ©AFP
The other common picks are three top-order batsmen Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, the captain and wicket-keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed, the spin-bowling all-rounders Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim and the fast bowlers Hasan Ali and Shaheen Shah Afridi.
None of the experts has named Shan Masood, Yasir Shah or Usman Shinwari in their squads notwithstanding the fact that Shinwari took 4 wickets in his last ODI against Australia and has a career average below 20.00.
Pakistan is close to finalizing their World Cup squad and will announce it on April 18 after conducting fitness tests of the 23 probables.
As per the ICC regulations, all participating sides have to submit their 15-player World Cup squads by 30 April but can make changes until 22 May without needing the ICC’s approval.
Considering the fact that England has been host to many high scoring ODI games since the last World Cup and 300 is considered to be a par score, the legendary fast bowler has named both Asif and Umar Akmal in his squad.
Akmal scored just 150 runs at an average of 30.00 and a strike-rate of 88.23 in the series against Australia but hit a career best 136 not out off 108 balls in the opening game of Pakistan Cup in Rawalpindi on Tuesday. He followed it with 99 off 66 balls in the next game.
Surprisingly, Akmal has not been named in the 23 probables announced by Pakistan for fitness tests.
The former captain seems to have focused on the importance of batsmen who can provide an impetus to the innings.
Akram-led Pakistan was the only team - thanks to Moin Khan’s power-hitting - that had a batting run-rate in excess of 8.00 in overs 41-50 in the Cricket World Cup 1999, also played in England, while his own 18-ball 33
The under-firing fast bowler Mohammad Amir, who has taken just 5 wickets in 14 ODIs since the Champions Trophy, also finds a place in Akram’s squad so does the 18 years old speedster Mohammad Hasnain, who was man-of-the-match in the PSL final for taking three wickets and occasionally troubled Australian batsmen with his pace in the ODI series.
The notable omission in Akram’s squad is Mohammad Hafeez, who is nursing a thumb injury but is expected to be fit before the world cup.
Akram has also suggested the Pakistan management to make arrangements for a reserve batsman, keeper, spinner and fast bowler to train with the county teams or even play second XI games so that if there is an injury during the tournament the replacement player is already acclimatized and present there.
Who knows the importance of pace more than Waqar Younis?
The legendary fast bowler has vouched for Wahab Riaz to play in the world cup.
Riaz has not played in the ODIs since the Champions Trophy 2017 but been a regular player in the domestic tournaments. He took 17 wickets in PSL 2019 with an impressive economy of 6.78 and took five wickets in his first match of the ongoing Pakistan Cup, a domestic 50 overs competition. The five-wicket haul came on the back of an intimidating spell full of pace and short balls for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Having said that a bowling average of 96.25 in ODIs in England might not favour him as he has also been left out of the 23 probables named for fitness tests.
Waqar has banked on the experience of Shoaib Malik, Hafeez and Amir. All three veterans feature in his squad.
Waqar, akin to his bowling partner Akram, has not picked a third regular opening batsman and considers Babar as a back-up opener. Babar opened the batting twice for Pakistan in the ODIs when Waqar was coach of the team in 2015. He regularly opens the innings in T20Is and is number one batsman in the format.
Waqar also picked the middle-order batsman Haris Sohail, who scored two centuries in the ODIs against Australia.
The former Test captain and most eminent voice of Pakistan cricket
Ramiz mentioned in the commentary that Pakistan cannot afford to have two players aged above 37 in the squad. He voted in favour of Hafeez presumably because of his bowling skills and did not consider Malik for a world cup spot.
Malik’s performance in the ODIs has been under scrutiny for a while. Since 2018, his average in the ODIs is 29.21 and strike-rate 77.62. In England, he has scored only 300 runs in 23 innings at an average of 13.63.
The World Cup 1992 opening batsman has picked Abid Ali in his team as a third-opener. Abid dazzled with a century, 112 off 119 balls, on his ODI debut against Australia in Dubai last week. He has also been one of the best performers in the domestic cricket and known for his good technique against new ball – a vital aspect of opening the batting in England.
Junaid Khan, who did not concede a single boundary in the middle phase of the innings (overs 11-40) in Pakistan’s successful Champions Trophy campaign in 2017, finds a place in Ramiz’s squad.
Ramiz picked four frontline fast bowlers and preferred an extra batsman over the all-rounder Faheem Ashraf.
Faheem is missing in Bazid Khan’s squad too.
The all-rounder has been a good performer in the T20s lately but failed to produce any notable performance in the ODIs.
Faheem’s overall bowling average in ODIs is 31.57 which comes down to 53.30 if we discard the series against Zimbabwe last year while his overall batting average in ODIs after 13 innings is just 13.27.
Bazid, who has a keen eye for emerging players and closely follows Pakistan’s domestic cricket, has chosen Aamer Yamin as a pace-bowling all-rounder.
Like Wasim and Waqar, Bazid has not picked a third regular opening batsman and shown trust in Babar in case one of Fakhar and Imam fails to perform as openers.
There is another outside the box pick by Bazid which is Mohammad Abbas. The right-arm seamer made his ODI debut recently in the series against Australia but took just one wicket in three games. Abbas had the best economy rate (5.75) for any bowler who delivered at least ten overs in PSL 2019.
Bazid has left out Haris despite the left-hander’s two centuries against Australia and picked wicketkeeper batsman Rizwan, who also hit two centuries against the Aussies.
The most notable omission in his squad is Amir due to the bowler’s paltry record in ODIs lately. The hero of the Champions Trophy Final has taken just 5 wickets at an average of 92.60 in his last 14 ODIs, including four games against Hong Kong and Zimbabwe.