Pakistani selectors dodged tough calls in squad for New Zealand

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The squad announced for the ODI series in New Zealand early next month brimmed over with the selectors breathing a sigh of relief, for they didn’t have to make any tough decisions.

The 15-man squad led by Sarfraz Ahmed had Azhar Ali and Mohammad Amir returning from injuries. While Ahmed Shehzad had to make way for Azhar Ali, Amir joins Rumman Raees and Hasan Ali as leading pacers in the squad.

Pakistan Squad: Sarfraz Ahmed (c) (wk), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Haris Sohail, Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan, Mohammad Nawaz, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Aamer Yamin and Rumman Raees

Support Staff: Mickey Arthur (Head Coach), Talat Ali Malik (Team Manager), Grant Flower (Batting Coach), Azhar Mahmood (Bowling Coach), Steve Rixon (Fielding Coach), Grant Luden (Fitness Coach), Talha Ejaz Butt (Team Analyst), Aun Zaidi (Media Manager) and Colonel Azam Khan (Security Manager)

While dropping Ahmed Shehzad, and bringing him back again, has become an involuntary yoyo for the selectors in recent times, they would be glad that they weren’t asked to make many other calls.

For instance, Junaid Khan and Usman Khan are out injured, and so Amir’s return has been a no-brainer. But what if they were both available?

Pakistan really are spoilt for choices in the left-arm pace department, with Amir, Junaid, Usman, Rumman and the now eligible Muhammed Irfan.

Another tough call was avoided with Imad Wasim not being available for selection due to a knee injury. Imad’s fortunes have fluctuated in recent months, relegating him to the bench. That Mohammad Nawaz has been selected in his place can also be interpreted as a cop-out, since Nawaz himself has barely done anything since the first edition of the PSL now almost two years ago.

However, now with the 15 men virtually picking themselves, and the selectors not really going with any surprise inclusions, it’s important to look at possible permutations and combinations for the final 11.

Intriguingly, while the squad selectors might have dodged a few telling decisions, it’s those that will pick the starting lineup that would have to make quite a few.

For instance, with Azhar coming in, who opens for Pakistan? Will he join Fakhar to resume the partnership from the Champions Trophy win or will Imam-ul-Haq, who made a century on his debut, continue up top? What about Fakhar Zaman himself who has barely done anything since his Man of the Match performance in the Champions Trophy final?

Perhaps Azhar could drop down to three, but would you want to move Babar Azam from his preferred slot?

Maybe the easiest call in the batting order is dropping Mohammed Hafeez who won’t be able to ball.

The biggest question in the middle order is if Haris Sohail would finally get a consistent run there. As things stand it is Shoaib Malik alone that is not only the spine of the middle-order, but the only batsman there that can accelerate as per the needs of the modern day requirements and not look out of sorts while doing so.

One man who has the potential to finally address Pakistan’s lower order power hitting woes is Faheem Ashraf. But he has been making headlines with the ball of late!

In any case, in Faheem Ashraf Pakistan do finally have the power-hitting all-rounder. And considering that he made noise for himself with the bat initially, it is great to see him already delivering with the ball.

Another budding all-rounder that Pakistan have is Shadab Khan, who is currently adding to his fast-growing reputation in the Big Bash League Down Under.

But it is important to handle Shadab with care and not give him too much of the batting burden – which is what the management has been doing with him. Despite his performances with the bat domestically, it is his leg-spin that is truly a weapon, and hence it’s important to let it grow and expand so that he doesn’t become a one-trick pony.

In the selected squad, Hasan, Amir and Rumman should lead the pace attack, with the former now truly Pakistan’s leading bowler even with Amir’s presence. Rumman has the chance to build on his start to international career with bouncing tracks in New Zealand, while Amir can dispel the shadows that continue to loom over him, amidst intermittent world-beating performances.

The squad as a whole has the repertoire to do damage in New Zealand. But the tour remains a considerable challenge, overcoming which would truly establish Pakistan among the elite of limited-overs cricket.