Pakistan cricket selectors, headed by former Test captain Inzamamul Haq, on Monday included pacers Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Amir and middle order batsman Asif Ali into Pakistan’s final 15-man squad for the World Cup. A spokesman for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) said that the trio had replaced Faheem Ashraf, Junaid Khan and Abid Ali after the selectors spoke with skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and coach Mickey Arthur following Pakistan’s 4-0 defeat at the hands of England in their recently concluded ODI series. Pakistan had the flexibility to finalise their line-up until 22 May, but decided to lock their make-up yesterday following the conclusion of the ODI series in Leeds.
Wahab, who has 102 wickets in 79 ODIs, last played a 50-overs match for his country in June 2017. He has played 17 List A games since then, taking 27 wickets at an average of 28.40 with an economy rate of 5.18. Ten of those wickets have come in five games this year, at an average of 20.70 and economy of 4.60, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s title run in the Pakistan Cup 50-over tournament. It seems that the selectors chose the 33-year-old veteran over Junaid and Faheem, who both struggled against England, for his ability to generate reverse swing.
Amir didn’t take part in any of the ODIs against England. He missed four of the five games with chickenpox but such has been the sense of worry following Pakistan’s bowling in the series, it was almost certain that Amir’s experience would see him return. Pakistan conceded 373 for 3, 359 for 4, 341 for 7 and 351 for 9 across the four completed games. That has come on the back of a longer-term slip in bowling form, paralleling Amir’s own dip since the ICC Champions Trophy two years ago. In his last ten ODI appearances, Amir has picked up just two wickets at an unflattering average of 148.50, though he has usually kept things tight. In 14 ODIs since the final of the Champions Trophy, his economy rate has been an excellent 4.58, though if games against Zimbabwe and Hong Kong are taken out, it goes up to 5.28. Amir, who is presently in London and has fully recovered from chickenpox, and Wahab are expected to join the squad in Bristol on May 22. Both the players will be available for selection for the May 24 and 26 warm-up matches before Pakistan launch their World Cup campaign against the West Indies on May 31 at Trent Bridge.
Inzamam told reporters yesterday that the team combination had been revised after taking into account the fast bowlers’ performance against England as well as considering the nature of wickets that were likely to be presented in the World Cup. He also explained that the bowling unit during the England ODIs had not clicked as anticipated or expected. He said the team needed bowlers familiar with reverse swing and using an old ball as they had realised in the series that such an ability would be effective.
“Junaid and Faheem had been originally preferred over a few other bowlers based on their recent performances and the investment we had made on them since 2017. They had the opportunity to cement their Word Cup spots, but they were well below-par in the series against England even though they were up against the difficult challenge of bowling on placid and batsmen-friendly wickets. After it became obvious that the bat is likely to dominate the ball in the World Cup, we revisited our strategy and reverted to the pace of Amir and Wahab. Furthermore, Amir and Wahab give the fast bowling attack more experience to back and support the relatively inexperienced but immensely talented Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Hasnain.” Inzamam added that hard-hitting Asif had been picked for his ability in the middle order. Asif is selected on the back of some impressive performances during the England series, where two fifties contributed to a total of 142 runs (in four innings) but, more importantly, at a strike rate of 131.48. Those runs, and the speed at which they came, filled a gaping hole in Pakistan’s middle order, which has long cried out for a power-hitter of Asif’s capabilities.
The final make-up of the squad is:
Openers – Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq
Middle-order batsmen – Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarafraz Ahmed (captain, wicketkeeper) and Shoaib Malik
Spinners – Imad Wasim and Shadab Khan
Fast bowlers – Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hasnain, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Wahab Riaz
Pakistan cricket team’s schedule:
24 May – v Afghanistan (warm-up),
26 May – v Bangladesh (warm-up), Cardiff (d)
31 May – v West Indies, Trent Bridge (d)
3 June – v England, Trent Bridge (d)
7 June – v Sri Lanka, Bristol (d)
12 June – v Australia, Taunton (d)
16 June – v India, Old Trafford (d)
23 June – v South Africa, Lord’s (d)
26 June – v New Zealand, Edgbaston (d)
29 June – v Afghanistan, Headingley (d)
5 July – v Bangladesh, Lord’s (d/n).