The New Chief Selector and His First Squad Selection
Mohammad Wasim, the new Chief Selector for Pakistan’s National Men’s Cricket Team, announced the squad for the home series against South Africa. Having served as a coach outside Pakistan and being a popular cricket analyst in the recent past, Mohammad Wasim is now a well-known face in cricketing circles. After representing Pakistan in 18 Tests and 25 ODIs, this is one of the biggest assignments in Pakistan’s new Chief Selector’s career.
It was quite a refreshing change at the press conference to see a Chief Selector with his laptop, methodically presenting the squad. The Cricket Committee of PCB had advised the team management to use data and science for players’ betterment. Likewise, the same idea was being implemented, where Mohammad Wasim justified the exclusions and inclusions backed by data.
Let us now examine the selected squad for the South Africa series.
Going through the squad, it seems that the Chief Selector has done an overhaul of Pakistan’s Test Team as there are nine uncapped players in it. This isn’t something that you often see in top cricketing nations’ squads, including India, England, New Zealand, and Australia. Changes like these are often observed in the teams which are developing themselves, such as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, and West Indies. The team announcement has been divided into openers, middle-order batsmen, all-rounders, wicket-keepers, spinners, and fast bowlers.
Seeing the openers, it seems either Imran Butt or Abdullah Shafique will debut, whereas Abid Ali has been retained. Here, it is important to take a look at the performances of Abid Ali and Shan Masood. Abid has a career average of 44.6 with two 100s in eight matches. On the other hand, Shan averages 29.3 in 25 Tests with four 100s. These days, openers perform in home or similar conditions but struggle in foreign conditions. The same has happened with Shan, and he has been penalized for not performing in New Zealand. However, the entire batting (with a couple of exceptions) struggled in the recent away series.
Taking a close look at Shan’s performances, he averages 39 in Australia, 28 in England, 38 in South Africa, 69 in Sri Lanka, and 70 in Pakistan. This is a pretty decent record for an Asian opener; however, he has struggled to get big scores in the recent matches. However, his fall has been due to his propensity to get out early. In the last ten innings, he had scored ducks half the time. It seemed that a lot of criticism on social media finally reached the decision-makers, which caused his exclusion from the squad. Abid is still not out of danger but has been granted another lifeline as he’s pretty new at the international level.
Some of the exclusions are quite surprising; Naseem Shah and Zafar Gohar were named as the next big things for Pakistan cricket but couldn’t perform to the desired level. Zafar, still being young and getting only one match, can’t be critically evaluated. Moreover, he was part of the Shaheens squad originally and was called up as a replacement for Shadab Khan. Nevertheless, Naseem Shah’s performances in his nine Test matches were concerning. He struggled big-time in away conditions, but, surprisingly, he has been omitted for a home series. He has found the most success in Pakistan so far, registering a five-wicket haul and becoming the youngest bowler in Tests to take a hat-trick. Nevertheless, Mohammad Wasim stated that he’s injured. In that case, expect to see him make a swift comeback in the future.
Mohammad Abbas was one of those reliable links in the Test team, who stood up even in difficult conditions, but his performances have been dismal in the recent past. His bowling strike rate has gone close to 100, with the average close to 40 and the wickets column also drying up. Again, it was on the cards but not really expected at this time ahead of a home series. Lastly, Sohail Khan has not been treated well as it seems he was included just for net sessions. He traveled to England and New Zealand, and now without getting any match, he has been dropped from the Test team. Some of the exclusions were due to injuries, such as Shadab Khan and Imam-ul-Haq; hence, they become irrelevant for the discussion.
Abdullah Shafique’s name in the Test squad seems to be the most unexpected one. He has played only one First Class match to date, and again, the selectors have picked a player in the longer format of the game based on the performances of the short format. Even his performances at the international level have not been very promising.
However, the best thing about the selection was the way domestic performers were rewarded. Kamran Ghulam, Salman Ali Agha, and Saud Shakeel were the top 3 run-scorers in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy (QeA) this year; all have been rewarded with a national call-up. Pakistan’s batting has been struggling of late, and this is a welcome decision. Still, it remains to be seen how many of these batsmen actually make it to the playing XI.
As far as the bowling department is concerned, the likes of Sajid Khan, Nauman Ali, and Tabish Khan have earned much-awaited calls. Shaheen is the only fast-bowler to continue from the last tour, and Hasan Ali’s domestic performances made his comeback a must. With that said, Haris Rauf’s inclusion in the red-ball format is questionable; he is yet to even make his mark with the white ball, and he’s been selected in the Test squad.
On the whole, it is not like one-off performances are being rewarded. Rather, top performers are being rewarded by the Chief Selector. The following table backs the selection made by Mohammad Wasim.
|Player||Matches||Wickets||Balls Per Wicket||Runs Per Wicket||5W/10W|
|Salman Ali Agha||10||941||58.81||75.82||6/2|
Selecting Mohammad Nawaz was again a reward for hard work in domestic cricket as he scored over 700 runs at an average of close to 50 and took 22 wickets in 8 matches. Seeing the existing squad, it couldn’t be said that domestic performers are not rewarded. Waqas Maqsood was the only exception; he was one of the leading performers with 41 wickets in 10 matches at an average of 21.78 and a strike rate of 44. It can be argued that he was deserving of selection.
The rest of the squad consists of some automatic selections, including Babar Azam, Mohammad Rizwan, Sarfaraz Ahmed (supplementary wicket-keeper), Fawad Alam, Azhar Ali, Yasir Shah, Faheem Ashraf, and Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Overall, the team is decent. The Chief Selector has sent out a strong message to the players and media: Poor performances will result in players being replaced in the squad. Domestic performances shall be rewarded, and only consistent performers will be carried forward. Furthermore, the Chief Selector used data, justified inclusions/exclusions, and delivered a presentation for the first time. Let us hope that this 20-member squad can create a winning combination and win a Test series, as the Pakistan team and fans are in desperate need of some success.
The opinions expressed solely belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Grassroots Cricket.