Team for India tour — a job well done by selectors
WITH the stakes certain to be extremely high during Pakistan’s mini limited-overs series against traditional rivals India in 11 days time, the national selectors were obviously in no mood to spring major surprises while announcing separate squads for the two Twenty20 games and three One-day Internationals.
The biggest talking point to emerge from the announcement of squads was the omission of flamboyant all-rounder and former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi for the ODI leg of the short trip across the border. Once an automatic selection in the 50-over format of cricket, Afridi’s axing was widely expected following a sharp dip in his form, with both bat and ball; a grand total of 182 runs (average 15.16) and just 15 wickets (average 43.13) in 16 one-dayers in 2012.
The above-mentioned bowling statistics include five for 36 against Afghanistan in Sharjah — Pakistan’s first ODI of the year which was served as a prelude to the four-match series against England in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
Afridi’s track record in the past 11 one-dayers, starting with the Asia Cup in Bangladesh last March, makes even more depressing reading: just 86 runs in nine innings and seven wickets.
Chief selector Iqbal Qasim admitted the decision to omit Afridi, a veteran of 349 One-day Internationals, was taken in the best interest of the team.
“It was indeed a difficult decision for us to drop Afridi. He is [still] a great player who can win matches, but in the interest of the team we have decided to leave him out,” the former Test spinner said. “At the same time we are in the process of looking at the future of Pakistan
cricket. The rebuilding phase has to begin now if we aspire to come up with a good crop [of players] leading to the 2015 World Cup.”
Although Afridi retains his place in the Twenty20 team, he’ll be wary of the fact that it was a touch-and-go situation for the selectors who must have taken a lenient stance keeping in mind the high-pressure nature of the coming games in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. An experienced campaigner like Afridi fitted the equation although statistics narrate a different story altogether.
Since the England series in the UAE, the 32-year-old Afridi has mustered just 118 runs in eight innings of nine Twenty20 Internationals — including an unbeaten 52 against Sri Lanka at Hambantota during Pakistan’s tour of the island in June — bagged just eight wickets.
The exclusion of Abdul Razzaq has not come as a big surprise since the 33-year-old all-rounder has hardly been a regular selection in the past 18 months. His outburst against skipper Mohammad Hafeez upon his return from Colombo over his omission for the World Twenty20 semi-final against Sri Lanka didn’t go down well with the PCB hierarchy and could have played a key factor in his ouster, probably permanently.
Of course, Pakistan would feel the enforced absence of a sensible batsman like Asad Shafiq, who is currently nursing a fractured finger, and slow left-armer Raza Hasan who could be out of the game for as long as six months after injuring a disc in his spine during the National Twenty20 Cup match against Quetta Bears last week.
Asad’s loss is Haris Sohail’s gain. The 23-year-old left-hander — who went to Sri Lanka with the Pakistan T20 squad last June but didn’t get a chance — finished as the second-highest run-getter in the President’s Trophy first-class tournament, amassing 673 in five matches at 134.60 for Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited.
The 34-year-old Zulfiqar Babar, Raza’s replacement, also has been rewarded for his outstanding form for Wapda by snaring the highest tally of wickets — 62 at 15.03 — in nine President’s Trophy matches.
Overall, the selectors have come up with two reasonable squads for what could be two testing weeks in conditions not dissimilar to what we normally find back home in the first bilateral series between Pakistan and India in five years.