LAHORE: Wahab Riaz has become the latest casualty of coach Mickey Arthur’s drive towards a high-performance culture within the Pakistan squad. So low has Wahab’s stock fallen that he was not even part of the 25 probables recently chosen for a training camp, from which a squad will be chosen to tour Ireland and England this summer. Arthur was moved to question Wahab’s training “work ethic” in justifying the decision, as well as providing the scathing assessment that he had not “won us a game in two years”.
Pakistan’s selection panel, headed by Inzamam-ul-Haq, has chosen five fast bowlers – Mohammad Amir, Muhammad Abbas, Hasan Ali, Mir Hamza and Rahat Ali – for the camp. The allrounder Faheem Ashraf is also available and the 17-year-old left-arm sensation Shaheen Shah Afridi is in the pool as a developmental pick. Sixteen will be chosen from the 25 in the final squad.
“He has not won us a game in two years,” Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. “I expect players that have been around for a long time to be winning us games and setting standards. Otherwise, we will invest in younger players who have long futures. We have good youngsters around. [Dropping] Wahab is a big decision but we have chosen a squad according to the time of year, country and conditions. The guys need to push themselves and get out of their comfort zones.”
Wahab did undergo a fitness test, where he registered a score of 17.4, which qualifies as a passing mark. But Arthur wanted him to touch 19 – an unofficial benchmark set for a fast bowler. He was outdone by the newcomer Afridi, who scored 18.
“I cannot fault Wahab when he has a ball in his hand but his work ethic around training is something needs to be looked at,” Arthur said. “I am changing the culture in this Pakistan environment and I am not interested in players doing just the bare minimum. I want players winning us games of cricket and pushing themselves to be the best they can be. This is a high-performance environment, not an environment where mediocrity is accepted. Unless you are winning games consistently, you are under pressure for your position.”
At 32, and already out of favour from the white-ball squads, the omission leaves Wahab’s international future very much up in the air. Although he debuted for Pakistan in 2008, it is only since the summer of 2014 when – returning under the tenure of Waqar Younis – Wahab became a fixture in the side. Waqar was understandably keen on the threat of his pace and a slingy action good for reverse.
Since then he has built a career of memorable spells, rather than a memorable career itself. Lead among those in the World Cup 2015 spell in Adelaide, but there was an immense nineteen-over spell in the afternoon heat of Dubai against England, that set up a win; there were key interventions on the Test tour to England in 2016; and in his last Test, against Sri Lanka in Dubai, he blitzed through the top order and nearly turned around a Test that had no business being turned around. Often forgotten is that he was Pakistan’s highest wicket-taker on the disastrous Test tour of Australia in 2016-17.
In between, there have been plenty of frustrations – ineffective performances, an unchecked no-ball problem, and good-but-wicketless spells. And there were the problems with his run-up in Dubai last year, where he pulled up from delivering five times in a row, the apoplectic reactions of Arthur in the dressing room only adding to the theatre. With the white ball in hand, he has faded sharply. He last played an ODI nearly a year ago against India in the Champions Trophy – his figures that day read 8.4-0-87-0 – and his last T20I came in April last year against West Indies; he returned figures of 4-0-44-1.
Since the start of 2016, however, he is Pakistan’s second-highest wicket-taking fast bowler in Tests and, by some metrics, the most effective. And in the recently concluded Pakistan Super League, Wahab was the joint top wicket-taker with Faheem, with a better economy rate (6.90) than Faheem’s (7.75).
In Wahab’s place selectors have recalled another left-armer, Rahat Ali, who has been out of national contention since 2016 following a heel injury. He comes back into the mix with Arthur looking to instil some discipline with the ball in English conditions, something he doesn’t trust Wahab to do.