The serenity and calmness took center stage again as Misbah-ul-Haq, the newly appointed chief selector and head coach, announced ODI squad for the upcoming series against a supposedly "second string" Sri Lanka side. It was his first task after assuming the office and he handled the situation like it's a piece of cake; answered all the questions from journalists without any signs of fluster. That being said, one might say he went with a circumspect approach for his first assignment judging by the squad that features many familiar names.
The leg-spin department has been overlooked for quite some time now. It doesn't boast too many options and overreliance on Shadab Khan has already dented Pakistan's performance as demonstrated by the former selection committee's dilemma during this year's ICC World Cup.
Shadab was not at his best, understandably so, because he was recovering from hepatitis C and even before the marquee tournament there was a dip in his form perhaps due to workload issues. Pakistan didn't have a quality back-up as Yasir Shah has already been tried and tested in ODI format but he failed to make inroads in limited-overs cricket.
Another weak-link has been the dearth of power-hitters in the system. Asif Ali has been a hit and miss kind of a player and questions linger around his consistency. Misbah, who has himself been very active in the domestic cricket, was expected to bring new talent into prominence but what we see is few finds from Pakistan Super League (PSL) and apart from that the same player pool has prevailed. The core of the team may have been rested given the depleted squad of Sri Lanka that will be featuring in the upcoming ODI series.
World Cup is over, T20 cricket isn't a worry for Pakistan given how well Pakistan players adapt and relish the format ?—proven by their number one ranking so it begs the question why the selection panel did not experiment with raw talent apart from Mohammad Hasnain in this low-key affair.
"Our strength always has been bowling. In my playing days, whenever we used to put 300 on the board, we were always in the hunt due to our quality bowling attack. Even if other teams scored 300 plus runs on a consistent basis, we would win most of the matches by scoring in 230s-240s," said Misbah while reflecting about the inconsistency of the Pakistan team. This is true but the team doesn't necessarily have to rely on the old formula and the onus ought to be on both bowlers and batters to deliver the goods instead of the former stepping up always when things go haywire.
About the reintroduction of Iftikhar Ahmed, who had an impressive PSL outing this year, Misbah said: "Iftikhar can bowl 10 overs as the fifth bowling option. He is a three-dimensional player; his fitness is immaculate and he can bowl at any stage of the match. He has a strike rate of 90 and has been the top former across all formats from last few years. He is a mature player but he wasn't able to find a spot in the team because we had the services of Shoaib Malik and Muhammad Hafeez but now we need him to fill the void." Iftikhar impressed with his temperament and all-round abilities in the domestic circuit from last few years and this is indeed a good selection in the circumstances where we need a good head on the shoulders to replace the veterans.
"There is a concern pertaining to Mohammad Hasnain that he hasn't played a lot of longer version of the game and has been featuring in T20 leagues mostly. We are trying to prepare him for longer format and Sri Lanka series will be a good test of his endurance," Misbah unveiled his plans about developing the young exciting prospect.
Regarding a pertinent question about skipper Sarfaraz Ahmed's decline in batting, Misbah said: "I am all for giving proper chances. I think Sarfaraz hasn't given himself many chances to bat and prove his worth. If he bats only in two out of ten games then he is not giving himself full chance to perform. I don't want Sarfaraz to underestimate his batting abilities and would like him to try and fulfill his role in the side." Misbah's words of encouragement may well spur Sarfraz back into form with the bat. Captaining in all formats is a tough proposition and could have taken a toll on his batting.
Misbah also addressed all-rounders facet and said: "Faheem Ashraf has played some good knocks but lacks consistency and so we are working a lot on improving his batting. Aamer Yamin is another exciting all-rounder. If these two want to break into the side, then they must play better than Wahab Riaz who does the job perfectly with the ball and complements it well with the bat by scoring 30-40 runs down the order."