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March 15, 1999


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Sohail is a must-pick!

Ramiz Raja

For the moment, let me pretend I am a selector -- the sole selector -- and not a columnist.

That being the case, this is the team I would pick to go to England for the World Cup: Saeed Anwar, Shahid Afridi, Aamir Sohail, Ijaz Ahmed, Inzamam ul Haq, Yousuf Youhanna, Azhar Mahmood, Moin Khan, Waseem Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Arshad Khan, Shoaib Akthar, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed, Wajahat Wasti.

The most surprising name in that list would be that of Aamir Sohail, who is not in the shortlist of 19 released by the Pakistan selectors. But I would pick him, if I were the person doing the picking.

The thing to remember is that he is being sidelined for being a difficult individual to handle, and not for any cricketing reasons. But good man management is about handling complex individuals and getting the best out of them -- not taking the easy option and keeping such individuals out of the side. Besides his obvious ability with the bat, he will add variety in bowling, and is experienced enough to do well in English conditions.

Saeed Anwar and Shahid Afridi would be a lethal opening combination, but both require a surface of their liking to fire on all cylinders. Anwar is a terrific player, but lately, he has developed a habit of either getting a big score, or nothing.

Shahid Afridi is as unpredictable as the English weather. It will be a huge bonus for Pakistan if he does well in England at the top of the order, though to be frank I have my doubts as he is technically not well equipped to play the moving ball. But then, I have seen miracles happen in the World Cup, and Shahid Afridi might well turn out to be the conjurer in this coming one.

Pakistan's batting would revolve around Saeed, Inzi and Ijaz. All three scored well in the last trip to England, when Pakistan played that Test series there in 1996-'97. However, Ijaz and Inzi need to get among the runs in a hurry, as both have been struggling of late.

Moin Khan will provide the fillip late in the batting order, he has of late become a player for all seasons. Yousuf Youhanna has looked good thus far, but I don't expect him to be the key man in the middle order, especially in England. That is why I have picked young Wajahat Wasti, as a standby, the youngster is in good toucch and it is always clever to nourish a good Test player into a good one day player when he is in form. He looks solid and correct, and with some slight improvement in footwork could provide Pakistan with either a very good opening option, or take a place in the middle to add solidity.

I have picked three spinners mainly because they are all very very good. A leg spinner is a wicket-taking bowler, and Mushy can get a few wickets as he did in the 1992 World Cup to halt the flow of runs. Saqlain will however remain Pakistan's most respected spinner. He is a proven quantity at this level of the game, and can be asked to bowl in the death overs to restrict the opposition with his wonderful drifting deliveries, that have helped him to pick up regular wickets in the one day game.

Arshad Khan is rated very high in the Pakistan camp and is an accurate one day bowler. He has the ability to bowl well early within the circle, which is a huge plus over the other two tweakers.

Some people might have argued a case for a seamer instead of the extra spinner, but I believe that if the seamer you pick is not good enough to ram home the advantage then he shouldn't feature in the time, as all international teams are capable of taking on the average seamer quite convincingly. A few medium pacers Pakistan has produced recently, like Fazle Akbar and Shahid Nazir, have looked reasonably talented but not penetrative enough to cause concern to opposing teams.

Another eyebrow raising choice might be my picking of Waqar Younis, but I have picked him for his experience, and his name. Although he is struggling with his rhythm, he is presently working his butt off to get into some kind of form which, knowing his commitment and professionalism, I am sure he will attain. Azhar Mahmood and Shoaib Akthar will provide support to Wasim Akram.

Azhar Mahmood needs to be mentally pepped up, as he is going through a low patch. A few more one day games before the World Cup could be the ideal tonic to get the youngster in a positive mental groove. He is a very good striker of the ball, and a typical English conditions bowler.

Overall, Pakistan will need to evolve its own strategy, rather than imitate some other country's gameplan. If they manage a good, aggressive start, it will be a huge plus but generally, wickets in hand towards the close will help them accelerate in the end overs and power their way to a good total. They will need to cut down their initial aggression and play methodically.

Our fast bowlers are known to be aggressive, but I am not sure this is a good strategy in one day cricket. Extras have been a grey area for the team of late, and some serious thought needs to be given to curtail the problem of no balls and wides.

In any case, though some thinking is necessary before the start of the tournament, there is no need to lock oneself in to a hard and fast strategy -- strategies will evolve, and change, as the situation on the ground changes. Pakistan is blessed with an abundance of natural talent, which gives them the opportunity to change gears as situations change.

And it will probably be these individual talents, rather than team strategies and collective efforts, that will see them through in this World Cup.

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