What is an ideal ODI combination?
The answer is not as simple as it is for a test combination. A test match is a game for specialists and most teams, if not all, go in with the age old formula of 6 batsmen, a wicketkeeper, and 4 bowlers.
In ODIs you need atleast 5 bowlers, and you also need a 6th bowler if one of your key bowlers goes for plenty. Going in with only 5 bowlers is a huge risk in an ODI.
And your ODI wicketkeeper has to know how to bat really well.
Pakistan has always been blessed with quality allrounders that have always ensured that Pakistan fields a strong ODI unit. From the days of Imran Khan to Wasim Akram, Abdul Razzaq, Azhar Mahmood, Shahid Afridi, and Shoaib Malik, Pakistan has never had a problem with the balance of their ODI team.
Besides the absence of a quality allrounder like Abdul Razzaq, Pakistan is also suffering from the fact that there aren't any wicket keepers around with the batting ability that the likes of Moin Khan, Rashif Latif, and Kamran Akmal used to have.
We all know that Pakistan faced an issue with the balance of their team during the 4 ODIs that they lost to England.
Asking an out of form Shoaib Malik to fill an allrounders position at number 7 or 8, and making Umar Akmal keep wicket did not work to solve this balance issue in the series against England.
Misbah and Dave Whatmore need to address this issue before the Asia Cup gets underway and they need to know what their best XI is before they land in Dhaka.
What XI would you play?
Despite Mohammad Hafeez' relatively bad form with the bat, he has to be one of the first few names you pencil in on your team sheet. No doubt about that.
Who partners him is the more important question. Do you go in with Azhar Ali who knocked a well made century while opening in the last ODI against England? Or do you go in with the more aggressive Nasir Jamshed? Or do you give Sarfraz Ahmed a chance to do what he has done for PIA in the domestic scene?
I would go for Nasir Jamshed. Simply because he can belt the leather like the best in the business, and if he gets going he can take a lot of the pressure of Hafeez who can then look to bat through the innings.
The Middle Order
Now here is the tricky bit. Considering that Pakistan needs to go in with two allrounders and a wicket keeper from 6-8 in order to ensure six bowling options, which three batsmen do you go with for positions 3 to 5?
Pakistan is kind of spoilt for choices in their 15-man squad for the Asia Cup with the experience duo of Misbah and Younis Khan, along with the young and talented brigade of Umar Akmal, Asad Shafiq, and Azhar Ali.
One can't really leave Misbah out considering he is the captain, though if it were up to me I would not have him anywhere near the ODI team.
Can you really leave Younis Khan and all that experience out? Can you drop the extremely talented Umar Akmal who has been Pakistan's best batsman in recent times? Can you ignore the rapidly developing Asad Shafiq who has played some promising knocks in recent times?
The only one you can bench really is Azhar Ali. Given the way he plays, if he doesn't open, he doesn't fit in anywhere else in the ODI XI.
So which three from Misbah, Younis, Akmal, and Shafiq do you play?
You can't play all four unless you make Umar keep wickets, which we all know is not the right thing to do. If you play all four and make Sarfraz keep then that leaves space for only four bowlers with Hafeez being the fifth. And as I said, playing with only five bowlers in an ODI is a big risk.
I am tempted to play Asad Shafiq, but I also do not want to leave Younis Khan out. He is a valuable member of the team and his experience is needed in the middle. Shafiq is being groomed for the number 3 position, and it will be his for the taking once Younis Khan moves on, but for the now the young talent would have to make way for the experienced war horse.
Umar Akmal needs to bat at four and no lower. Plus with him cushioned between Younis and Misbah, it might just be the ideal position for him to bat on. He needs to be given more chances to build an innings. He's being wasted at 5 or 6.
There is no question about Shahid Afridi's position in the team. Besides Hafeez, he is probably the only other player who walks in automatically in my books.
It is high time that Misbah and the Pakistan team management places its trust in the burgeoning talent of Hammad Azam. He has shown glimpses of his promise in the little chances that he has had thus far. Its time to give him an elongated run and allow him to make the position left vacant by Abdul Razzaq, his very own.
He is only 20 and faces a long career ahead of him. There is no point carrying him around in the squad if you are not going to play him. And there is also no point if you are going to play him at number 8 and not trust him with the ball.
Give him a proper run.
The selectors have entrusted Sarfraz Ahmed the job for the Asia Cup, but have also given him an ultimatum to score runs. I wonder how much pressure that would put on this former U19 captain.
Saeed Ajmal and Umar Gul are sure starters, with the third spot a toss up between Wahab, Cheema, and Rehman.
Playing Rehman won't be a bad ploy considering there will be spinning tracks in Bangladesh, but then just one genuine pacer in Umar Gul might be a risk. If it does happen then we will surely see Hafeez opening the bowling with Gul, and Hammad Azam employing his medium pace in the middle overs.
So here is my Pakistan XI for the Asia Cup. I believe a more balanced team than the one Misbah played during the series against England.
1. Mohammad Hafeez 2. Nasir Jamshed 3. Younis Khan 4. Umar Akmal 5. Misbah Ul Haq 6. Hammad Azam 7. Shahid Afridi 8. Sarfraz Ahmed 9. Umar Gul 10. Saeed Ajmal 11. Abdul Rehman
What is yours?