Squad Selection on Merit or Popular Choice

Was the Data-Based Squad Selection on Merit or by Popular Choice?

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After a torrid tour of New Zealand that ended with more questions than answers, team Pakistan’s next assignment is at home against the Proteas, who are visiting Pakistan for the first time since 2007. A horrific overseas tour followed by all sorts of media speculations is not an uncommon story in Pakistan cricket. Before the home series formally begins on 26th January with the first Test match in Karachi, most fans were anxiously anticipating the squad announcement, which was to be made by the newly appointed Chairman of Selectors Mohammad Wasim. There were question marks over a few players who failed to deliver in New Zealand and whether the domestic performers will get a chance or not.

As the press conference for the squad announcement began, the first noticeable point was the Chief Selector using a data-based approach to justify the team selection and players dropped from the squad. As fresh and welcoming this new strategy was, it seemed to have divided the fans into two different schools of thought. One set of fans seem completely happy with the fact that proven domestic performers were selected, while the other critiques a lot of bias shown while putting up the data of the players that were selected.

Panicked Selection?

Although the Chief Selector refuted the statement about the selection being panic-based, in my opinion, he did not provide enough proof to include certain players, and the data that was shown to justify their inclusion seemed biased. Even though top performers of the recently concluded FC season or the last two years were preferred, the selection was more like a popular demand thing to make most people happy rather than being on merit. It also felt that some of the players were picked on personal instinct. The Chief Selector, albeit giving ample reasoning for their inclusion, was negating his own statements that he gave earlier in the presser to justify the inclusion of a few players.

Let me now break down point-by-point how the new “data-based” team selection was not on merit but rather on popular choice under media pressure.

Tabish Khan

The 36-year-old Karachi born fast bowler has over 17 years of FC experience with 598 wickets to his name from 137 matches. He has represented Pakistan ‘A’ on numerous occasions but has been the most unfortunate of the top domestic performers to have never had an opportunity to represent Pakistan at the international level. Any argument over his selection seems dull considering what he has achieved and how deserving he is to at least wear the green cap once in his life after years of hard work in the domestic circuit. Still, his inclusion in the recent Test squad over Sohail Khan seems unjustified. While presenting the chart of Tabish Khan’s performance, the Chief Selector was of the view that “all of us know how good his performances have been in the last five years.”

Let us look at that chart of Tabish Khan’s performance that was provided by the Chief Selector:

First of all, there are quite a few errors in the chart itself, which shows the overall wickets tally as 364 when the total number of wickets picked by Tabish in the last five years is 182, as given in the wickets column. The 5wI column shows 28 5fers, but the overall number is 14. Meanwhile, the 10wM column has 8, but the sum is actually 4. Still, having mentioned these errors, I feel that these types of mistakes can be forgivable as we know that this does not change the fact that Tabish has been phenomenal over the years.

The debating point here is that even if we go by the following chart, Tabish Khan’s performances in the last two seasons (since the domestic cricket revamp) have only receded as he averages 35.94 with the ball at a strike rate of 65.10. If we compare these recent performances with another top performer like Waqas Maqsood, the selection seems unjustified and based on media pressure rather than merit alone.

Tabish vs. Waqas – Comparison of performances in the last two years (Since revamp)

Player

Matches

Wickets

Average

5wI

Economy

Strike Rate

Tabish Khan

19

55

35.49

2

3.30

64.6

Waqas Maqsood

16

51

26.88

1

3.04

53.1

This clearly proves that Waqas Maqsood has been the better of the two bowlers and more consistent. It is quite alarming that the selection committee could not evaluate the data of Waqas Maqsood, whereas they made a case for Tabish Khan over the same data.

Anyways, moving on from this point to the other, we will now look at how some of the exclusions were perhaps too harsh, or the reasoning given for those exclusions cannot be justified.

Sohail Khan

From the past year or so, Sohail Khan has been a regular member of the Test squad but could not get a game ahead of the trio of Shaheen, Abbas & Naseem. The 37-year-old medium-fast bowler was perhaps the unluckiest of all the players to be dropped after just warming the bench for the past year and not even getting a game. The Chief Selector explained his exclusion from the team by saying that he is “definitely in our plans, but we think that in our home conditions, Tabish is a better bowler than Sohail.”