Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur has said that the five-match ODI series against Australia is an opportunity for the fringe players to fill up a few available spots for the upcoming 50-over World Cup in England and Wales starting late May.
Pakistan rested six players including regular skipper Sarfraz Ahmed for the series starting in Sharjah on March 22 to provide an opportunity to other leading performers to stake a claim. Other five players rested include Hasan Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Shadab Khan.
Shoaib Malik will lead the side in the absence of Sarfraz Ahmed, who also led them in three ODIs and the T20I series against South Africa after Sarfraz was called back following an incident with Andile Phehlukwayo.
Arthur believes it was a well-thought out and a sensible decision.
“We designed this series for our players for the simple fact that we want to test our best bench players,” said Arthur.
“There was planning, sometimes people think that its ad hoc. We want to test our bench-strength so that we could have a look at our final squad and combination. We know our major players for the World Cup.”
A number of uncapped players were called up for the series, including openers Shan Masood and Abid Ali, middle-order batsman Saad Ali and Test team regular Mohammad Abbas. Masood and Ali were picked on their performances in domestic cricket and with the A team later last year. Meanwhile, Saad Ali also boasts a strong record with the bat in recent seasons.
While Abbas has established himself as the spearhead of the Pakistan team's pace attack in Tests, the management is willing to test him with the white ball as the conditions in England are expected to be seam friendly. Meanwhile, one of the emerging stars of recently concluded Pakistan Super League, Mohammad Hasnain, has also been picked for the series. The 18-year-old playing for Quetta Gladiators impressed with his pace - clocking 151kph - and also won the man of the match award in the final of PSL 2019.
But perhaps all eyes will be set on Umar Akmal, whose performance in the PSL and choppy recent outings of Asif Ali in the recent times have earned him an opportunity to seal a spot in the final 15 for the World Cup.
“After this series, we go to England and there we go with a very very settled squad and the roles will be defined. We want to know where the squad stands. We felt that we have done everything possible to be the best possible prepared team for the World Cup.”
Pakistan also plays a five ODI series against England before the mega event.
Arthur believes trying new players will help in the long term.
“For us, it isn’t so much about Australia, this is about us and those positions for the World Cup and the opportunity created for a lot of players because, for us, we need to find who our players are for every position.
“If we could do that out of this series, then it would be good for us.
“To be honest, it’s a new squad. This is a series of opportunities. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work-out that a few positions are available for the World Cup. There are probably four available. Inzamam-ul-Haq and I have discussed that. So, these young players need to raise their hands up and try to make those places their own. It’s an exciting time going into the World Cup."
Commenting on the decision to rest Sarfraz Ahmed, Arthur reiterated the need for rest.
“Sarfaraz needs rest. As do Babar Azam and all the guys that are resting. I was telling the Australian boys we have been in the hotels since 12 September. (if) we just keep playing our guys, they gonna get injured and fatigued.
“We will have a series in England, which will give us a perfect preparation for us going into the World Cup and we would have been silly not to use this series as a rest going into the biggest challenge, the World Cup.”
Arthur, who also coached Australia, believes Australia are a resurging side after a turbulent period in the wake of last year’s ball-tampering fiasco that saw the trio of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft banned.
“Australia are a fantastic side and they have bubbled away, they have gone through a much-publicised crisis and they seem to be playing some very good cricket at the moment.
“To win the series from 0-2 down was a fantastic achievement,” said Mickey of Australia’s 3-2 ODI series win in India before this tour. “They have got some fine players, (Usman) Khawaja is in good nick, Pat Cummins is in good nick.
“They have some good young guys. I am sure they will rotate their players through the series as they also need their major players firing.”