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March 3, 1999


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Horses for courses

Abdul Hussain

At a time when various countries are announcing their preliminary squads for the 1999 World Cup, there is still an air of mystery surrounding the likely composition of Pakistan's squad.

Keeping in mind the Pakistan selectors' penchant for doing the extraordinary, it would take either a very brave or a very stupid person to try and predict what their behavior may be when it comes to picking the squad -- and since I have consistently failed to predict our selectors' mindsets in the past, that puts me in the 'stupid' category.

It has to be either me, or them, right?

Anyway, here is my attempt to play selector. The one thing that has come through in all the squads announced so far, is that people have taken into account the harsh playing conditions that teams will likely face in the early part of the English summer.

In this regard it is admirable that the Pakistan administration is thinking of sending the side to England three weeks ahead of the competition, for a training camp in Derbyshire in order to acclimatize themselves with the conditions in England.

Given that conditions in England are going to be different from what Pakistan's side has been used to in recent months, I think experience in these conditions should be a major factor in deciding our team. Another important factor is to include batsmen who will have the technical expertise to adjust to seaming wickets.

If one looks at Pakistan's past record on English tours, one can easily see that our batsmen have a tough time adjusting to early season conditions, but tend to be more prolific in the warmer months of July and August. This underlines the technical requirements of batsmen who will comprise the squad. On the bowling front, emphasis has to be on pace, not on spin. This probably means that there is no room for Mushtaq Ahmed, despite his obvious experience in English conditions -- a hard decision, but one that will have to be taken given that it will be hard for wrist spinners to get the degree of control and turn required when the conditions are cold and gray. Further, taking two wrist spinners, assuming Afridi goes, is a luxury we can ill afford.

Given those broad criteria, let's look at some names. On the batting front Saeed Anwar, Yousuf Youhana and Inzamam ul Haq are automatic choices, barring the usual fitness concerns. I would consider taking 4 more batsmen, 3 all-rounders, and 4 specialist bowlers (for simplicity, I consider Akram to be a specialist bowler) along with Moin Khan as the wicket-keeper.

Certain experts might consider this combination to be a bit top-heavy in batting, but I feel that batting is our Achilles heel and we must maximise our options here. Three of the four batting spots should go to Ijaz Ahmed, Salim Malik and Mohd. Wasim. The first two have loads of experience in English conditions while the last one, though out of form, showed in Australia a couple of years ago that he has the technical skills to cope in trying conditions. (His innings in Hobart on a seaming wicket was particularly impressive).

The last batting spot is a tricky one. It appears that the youngster Imran Nazir maybe the leading contender -- not having seen him bat, however, it is tough for me to comment. But I am sure he will be given a chance either in the Asian Test Championship or in the one-day tournament to follow, by which time a decision on his abilities could be made.

The other contenders for this position would have to be Akhtar Sarfaraz, Asif Mujtaba and, if all could be forgiven, Aamer Sohail. All three are left handers and, in the case of Mujtaba and Sohail, can also bowl. Sohail is a long shot given his history with Akram, while Mujatba is probably considered past his best, but he has had a decent Quaid-e-Azam trophy and is experienced in English conditions.

Sarfaraz had a good tour of New Zealand with Pakistan A and has represented Pakistan in one-days before, but I would consider him to be the longest shot. In my mind there are more deserving candidates than Malik, Ijaz, Mujtaba and Sohail, but quite frankly the World Cup is hardly the time to experiment.

Two of the three all-rounders also pick themsleves -- Afridi and Azhar Mehmood should be natural choices. The candidates for the third spot would be Abdur Razzak and Azhar Shafiq. Another possibility would be Taimoor Khan, who also had a good tour of New Zealand and is having a decent Quaid-e-Azam outing for Peshawar.

Unfortunately none of these players have much experience in English conditions, although Razzak toured there with Pakistan A two summers ago. Again, this is a choice to be made during the one-day tournament in India. Of the 4 bowlers remaining to be picked, Saqlain and Akram are automatic. On recent performance, Akhtar would also have to be in there. That leaves only one spot to be contested by Waqar, Aaqib and in my mind, Shahid Nazir.

Quite frankly, in early season English conditions, I think Aaqib would be the best choice, he has loads of experience, is a known performer under pressure and is one of the few Pakistani paceman capable of genuine seam and swing bowling, as opposed to reverse swing and pace which is what Akhtar and Younis focus on.

But, as in the case with Sohail, political considerations consequent on Akram being in charge will probably mean that Aaqib will be left out in the cold. That leaves Younis and Nazir to fight it out for the last spot. Younis is obviously more experienced in English conditions, but his record in recent one-dayers has been disappointing and he is injury prone. Hence, I would have to go for Nazir, who also has toured England in the past and has shown himself to be a handful in those conditions.

So my initial 19 would be: Anwar, Afridi, Ijaz, Malik, Inzamam, Youhana, Imran Nazir, Moin Khan, Azhar Mehmood, Akram, Saqlain, Shahid Nazir, Shoaib Akhtar, Abdur Razzak, Azhar Shafiq, Taimoor Khan, Mujtaba, Younis and Aaqib.

The pruning from 15 to 19 would then depend upon some of the performances during the triangular tournament in India, but at this point in time, barring dramatic evidence to the contrary in the coming fortnight, I would drop Younis, Imran Nazir, Shahid Nazir and Taimoor Khan.

That would about bring my own exercise at team selection to an end -- now to sit back and see what PCB's selection committee will do.

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