Pakistan were not favorites at the Champions Trophy, but they would have expected to do better than a group stage exit. They had one of the best bowling attacks in the competition with the likes of Wahab Riaz, Junaid Khan and Md. Irfan and the spin duo of Saeed Ajmal and Md. Hafeez.
They were let down by their batting department as they failed to put up reasonable totals on the board for their bowlers to work with. The failure has prompted some major changes in the ODI squad that has been selected for the tour of West Indies.
These major changes include the sacking of former captain Shoaib Malik, wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal and under-performing opener Imran Farhat, whereas Shahid Afridi was called back. Umar Akmal will take the gloves in order to lend the side greater balance whereas uncapped wicket-keeper Md. Rizwan has been picked as back-up.
Opener Imran Farhat has been replaced by Ahmed Shahzad who was last picked in the Pakistan squad two years ago. These wholesale changes in the side indicate intent on the part of the Pakistan selection committee as they send out the message that under-performing players will have to face the consequences.
However, the selectors did not think that a change in leadership was necessary as Misbah-ul-Haq will continue to lead the side in spite of facing heavy criticism for his leadership skills. Misbah-ul-Haq was the only batsman in the Pakistan side who scored runs at the Champions Trophy, but failed to lead the side from the front.
He batted lower down in the batting order and often entered the game in situations when the match was more or less already lost. Pakistan were not short of options in this respect as they could have promoted Md. Hafeez who already leads the side in the T20 format.
Interestingly, the chief selector resigned a day after this team was selected, sending an indication that all was not right in Pakistan cricket. The list of misfortunes that they have suffered in the last couple of years is endless. They have not been able to host the matches at home since the horrible attack on the Sri Lankan contingent in 2009. Spot fixing scandals have further tarnished the reputation of Pakistan cricket. They have tasted moderate success in International cricket since, but the last year has been marked by instability.
It seems that the Pakistan selectors do not have enough faith in the new generation of cricketers that are emerging from the domestic circuit as they keep turning back to the experienced players. Pakistan will be hoping that Asad Shafiq and Haris Sohail take their chances on this tour so that greater trust in the next breed of cricketers is generated.
The selection of Shahid Afridi does not come as a shock given the way Pakistan cricket is run. The potentially explosive all-rounder has suffered a steep decline in his batting form and was dropped twice from the ODI squad in the last six months. He averages under 20.00 in the last eighteen months of international cricket while his bowling has not been as effective as it was in their successful T20 campaign of 2009 and ODI World Cup of 2011.
Moreover, Afridi’s addition to the squad is likely to create an atmosphere of dispute in the dressing room. His relations with captain Misbah-ul-Haq have not been the best. Shahid Afridi was typically vocal about his axing from the Champions Trophy and blamed it on captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
He said, “It’s the captain’s decision to drop me. It’s no big deal for me if a captain doesn’t want a certain player in the team. I am much better than lot of other (Pakistan) players and I know I could play for Pakistan for few more years.”
Misbah-ul-Haq, however, supported the decision of Afridi’s return to the squad in a press conference which was held to announce the squad. “He is an option who can help us on slower tracks (in the West Indies),” said Misbah. “Malik was the one who had been helping us out with six to seven overs and was handy with the bat as well so Shahid Afridi has been recalled in place of Malik as an extra all-rounder.”
Umar Gul’s continued absence from the team due to injury will hamper the bowling attack but the real test will be faced by the batting department. The slowness of the West Indian pitches might help the likes of Saeed Ajmal and Md. Hafeez.
It remains to be seen if the changes that have been made to the team bring success but the tendency of the selection team to go back to a select group of senior players is regressive and can hurt Pakistan cricket in the long run.