To West Indies We Go To Sink

I do not agree with the captain's or selectors' choices regarding the viability of this team to deliver in the West Indies and America this summer. I see serious problems cropping up during the World Cup

To West Indies We Go To Sink

A Lannister always pays his debts. Similarly, I always keep my promises. Hence, as pledged, I am analysing Pakistan's squad for England and Ireland and the eventual World Cup party, which would emerge from the players set to showcase their talents in the British Isles over the next fortnight.  

This eighteen-member squad that has travelled is clearly not my cup of tea. I would have understood if this squad had one or two players missing from my expected list, but this team has to be the strangest to have been announced by any powerhouse cricketing nation. I believe not much thought has been given to the pros and cons of the players selected. There are certain players who should have been on the plane to England, and there are more than a few players who, I believe, should not have been allowed to get anywhere close to the aircraft bound for the British isles, considering their recent form and fitness. 

For example, I feel that Usama Mir, with his recent form and the improvement he has shown under the Multan Sultan's spin bowling coach, Alex Hartley, should have been in the front row heading to England. This young man has shown marked improvement in recent months. He was the highest wicket-taker in the recently concluded Pakistan Super League (PSL) season. Yet he was ignored. Why? 

How can PSL be a criterion for selecting some players for a T20 World Cup and not for others? Where is the uniformity of thought? When players work hard and show improvement in their skill sets, demonstrating improved ability, they ought to be rewarded. It is heartbreaking to see players not given a chance after making positive strides in their game, which is visible to all and sundry, except the decision-makers. 

I understand Usama has been inconsistent in the past. But during the recent PSL season, everyone saw the improvements in his game. He was completing his action better; the pivot was enhanced; hence, he was landing the ball in better areas and picking up key scalps. He was the leading wicket-taker in the tournament, and for good reason. 

In the last game against New Zealand, he had picked up two wickets at the most crucial moment, saving Pakistan the blushes of losing to a downgraded Kiwi entourage in its own backyard! Without Usama, the series was as good as lost. Without him, perhaps we would have seen Babar Azam in the World Cup without the armband, a fitting punishment for losing a series to a depleted Kiwis.

I feel grave injustice has been meted out to the tall leggie from the city of the great Zaheer Abbas. Usama deserved a spot on that flight, but he was left at home to lick his wounds.

I do not find myself happy about the selection of wicket-keeper Azam Khan. He is definitely a hugely talented player, but he is also a highly unfit character—as proved during the recent high-altitude training camp. Being overweight, he is quite prone to injuries and will remain a liability unless he improves his fitness. On the Ireland tour thus far, he has played two exciting knocks, but there are a few aspects to these games that we need to take into account. Both of these knocks were played with absolutely no pressure; they were basically free hits. I would like to keep a close eye on his performance against the defending champions, England, to see how he performs during high-pressure situations.

The other drawback to including Azam Khan is his wicket-keeping. He missed a few key opportunities against Ireland and seemed a little on his heels than on his toes. If, as a wicket-keeper, he can't handle such opportunities, I would start to lean towards selecting better options over him. A better choice could definitely have been Mohammed Harris. He is a better keeper while following Azam Khan's power hitter modus operandi to the dot.

Haris Rauf is another player who has been under a cloud in terms of form and fitness. He can bowl in the nineties, but he's still not fully fit, and his performance lately wasn't up to the mark for either the Lahore Qalandars or in the green jersey. In 2024, he has so far played just four games and has been extremely generous towards his opponents, giving 10.62 runs per over. That economy rate doesn't guarantee a place in the team, particularly if you are half-fit. Instead of Rauf, Pakistan should have gone with someone like Mohammed Ali, who showed tremendous promise in his stint with the Sultans during the PSL, and he's done well in the domestic circuit, too. Ali has bowled with excellent pace, consistently hitting 140 Km/h and picking wickets at crucial junctures. Moreover, he is a product of the domestic structures, and it is embarrassing when you disregard your own homegrown products. 

Hassan Ali is another astonishing pearl of wisdom whose inclusion, I suspect, was orchestrated by our dysfunctional management, and I am leaning more towards the captain. We saw that our captain tried Hassan in the last game against Ireland, where he was taken to the cleaners. Sadly, he seemed like a club bowler. I am saddened by Hassan Ali's decline. He was a tremendous player in 2017, but now he is a mere shadow of himself, both in pace and efficiency. However, Babar Azam remains oblivious to Hassan's decline and this selection seems more like a cheap Ponzi scheme and nothing more. I would have picked Zaman Khan or Mohammed Wasim instead of Hassan Ali.  

The next absurd selection is that of Irfan Khan Niazi. While it is not as crazy as picking Hassan Ali, it is a little strange. There is no doubt that he is a promising all-rounder, but I feel he still needs more time before playing internationally. You can't pick raw fruits from the tree and then sell them in the market at a premium; you've got to wait for the fruits to ripen.

Besides, he has not been given an opportunity in Ireland to showcase his skills, so why take him?

Moreover, no one is considering that you can't play four pacers in the West Indies!. If that is so, who will Babar Azam drop to accommodate Irfan? His dear friend, Shaheen Shah Afridi? This is a tongue-in-cheek comment! 

Remember, this is the same Shaheen whose captaincy Babar Azam had orchestrated to snatch from under his long levers and did so successfully.

Next up is Usman Khan. I feel he made a bad decision when he gave up the opportunity to play in the UAE simply because I feel he is not yet of international quality. However, if he tweaks his backlift a tad and can overcome a jangling set of nerves, perhaps then he could regain that PSL form. He should have been given a game against weaker bowlers in Ireland, where he could have proved effective. But, alas, he wasn't given a chance against a weak attack that was missing Josh Little.

if Babar sat out a game, Usman could have been given a go, but our captains never sit it out, not even for a three-day side game . 

Usman can keep wickets in addition to being a dasher, so he's not as bad as some of the other players who have been selected, but he's only good if he gets some playing time under his belt. If you don't have the courage to rest a veteran like Rizwan against weak opposition, then selecting players like Usman becomes pointless.

I already feel that Babar Azam and a few other players on this bus to the World Cup should not be in the T20 team.  

My closing argument on the selections is that I do not agree with the captain's or selectors' choices regarding the viability of this team to deliver in the West Indies and America this summer. I see serious problems cropping up during the World Cup, from a selection point of view and probably from a team spirit vis-à-vis the Shaheen Shah Afridi and the Babar Azam captaincy saga.

And now comes the most controversial part of this piece: If I would have selected Rizwan, he would be my captain because when he wears the captain's hat, he becomes dangerous like Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Besides, Rizwan is a man who's not unaware of his faults, unlike his [kaptan]. In recent times, he's shown more intent than Babar therefore to improve his dwindling Strike Rate (SR) of 128, he tries to play more unorthodox strokes and seems like he is more in sync with the modern day approach to cricket and possesses the natural charisma of a leader! So he would be my captain! 

As I said before, unfortunately, I do not see this current Pakistan team doing exceptionally well under Babar Azam at the World Cup; however, as a passionate Pakistani supporter, I will be rooting for my country. Sadly, my cheers will be missing the belief and conviction!

Before I go, I would like to put my mouth where my money is. In a different universe, this would be the 15-member squad I would pick for the World Cup:

1. Muhammad Harris

2. Siam Ayub

3. Fakhar Zaman

4. Shadab Khan (flexible in the order)

5. Salman Ali Agha

6. Iftikhar Ahmed

7. Rizwan 

8. Imad Wasim

9. Naseem Shah

10. Shaheen Shah Afridi

11. Mohammad Abbas

12 Mohammed Ali

13. Usama Mir

14. Zaman Khan

15. Abrar Ahmed

Captain: Mohammed Rizwan 

Vice Captain: Shaheen Afridi

The author is a senior cricket analyst and is Asia's first woman cricket commentator.