Wednesday, February 3, 2016

World T20 2016: Pakistan Selectors need to focus on Continuity

A 2-1 series loss to New Zealand and the preceding 3-0 loss to England resulted in Pakistan falling in the ICC T20 rankings from number 2 to number 7. With the World T20 just over a month away, Pakistan's preparation has been far from ideal. Till a few years ago, the popular perception was that the shorter the game, the better Pakistan is; however this cannot be further away from the truth. Since the turn of the decade, Pakistan has been a superior test team compared to an ODI and T20 team. The disparity between results is clear.

This disparity becomes even more glaring when you consider results among the top 8 teams; i.e. excluding matches against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in the past 5 years.

Pakistan has maintained a strong performance in test matches over the past 5 years, winning more than they have lost; however in the limited overs formats, the green shirts have been found wanting. One apparent reason for this stark difference is the continuity factor.

While Misbah has been at the helm of the test team throughout this period, Pakistan has seen the ODI and T20 captaincy change hands several times. From Afridi to Misbah to Azhar in ODIs and from Afridi to Misbah to Hafeez and back to Afridi in T20Is. This is never settling for a team. Moreover, Pakistan’s test team has had a stable batting line up for a long time now, unlike the ODI and T20 teams that have witnessed a lot of chopping and changing.

The difference between the number of players tried by Pakistan at each batting position across formats is also quite evident. Sure one should be more flexible in limited overs games; however the number of different batsmen used by Pakistan in each position over the past 5 years also shows that not many batsmen were provided with an opportunity to settle down in any one position.

What is difficult to understand is why hasn't the same board, selection committee, and team management followed the same formula of success across formats? When continuity was key in ensuring positive results in tests, why was it not used for the limited overs formats?

With the World T20 round the corner, the biggest dilemma facing Pakistan is that of selection. By this time, majority of the squad should have been decided; but that does not seem to be the case. Especially when the captain himself gives comments like "time is running out for Ahmed Shehzad and Umar Akmal".

The most shocking part about that statement, which resonates the feelings of majority of the fans, is that Shehzad and Akmal are two of Pakistan's best batsmen in the shortest format of the game. Not only are both of them among the leading run scorers for Pakistan in T20Is over the past 5 years, they also have outstanding averages and strike rates. I am really not sure what more they need to do to prove their abilities, but both are definitely two key members of Pakistan's T20 team.

There is no reason why any of these 5 batsmen should not be on the plane to India in March.

While the above 5 batsmen have displayed consistent form, there have been a few batsmen that have been extremely disappointing. Sohaib Maqsood has always looked out of sorts in T20Is; and it was no different in the recent series against New Zealand and England. Mohammad Rizwan has also been a disappointment in T20s. Haris Sohail and Rafatullah Mohmand have also not displayed anything extraordinary in the few T20s that they have played for Pakistan to consider them.

A name that has been doing the rounds with respect to World T20 selection is Kamran Akmal. His recent domestic form has been remarkable and he was the leading run scorer in the recently completed domestic one-day competition. Kamran has always been a prolific scorer in the domestic circuit and I can understand the urge for the selectors to include him in their World T20 plans; however his T20I record over the past 5 years is mediocre at best.

I do not see any reason why any of these batsmen should be a part of Pakistan's World T20 squad.

While Sohaib and Rizwan seem to have got plenty of chances in recent times, I fail to understand what wrong Mukhtar Ahmed, Sherjeel Khan, and Nauman Anwar did for Pakistan to discard them after only a handful number of games.

Looking at those averages and strike rates absolutely bewilders me why neither of them have played more T20s for Pakistan. Forget about being selected in the playing eleven, these three have not even been a part of Pakistan's T20 squads for the recent series.

Another batsman that should be a no-brainer selection for the World T20 is Babar Azam. He is yet to make his T20I debut for Pakistan, however if his ODI innings are anything to go by then one can easily see why he is a must have in the T20 side. He has demonstrated immense character in his short career thus far, and his wide range of strokes shows his potential for the T20 format.

Then wicketkeeper position does not require much debate. Sarfraz Ahmed has done nothing wrong to be dropped and has easily been the pick of the wicketkeepers that Pakistan has tried in T20Is in the past 5 years.

Pakistan’s bowling squad for the World T20 squad, in my opinion, should comprise 4 pacers and 2 spinners. Mohammad Aamer, Wahab Riaz, and Imad Wasim pick themselves given their recent performances. Even though Aamer was not at his best in the T20 series against New Zealand, he showed improvement with every international outing. Wahab has been carrying the attack on his shoulders for some time now, while Imad has been a revelation in the limited overs formats.

The other 3 members could be anyone from Mohammad Irfan, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Sohail Tanvir, Zafar Gohar, Yasir Shah (if cleared), and Saeed Ajmal who recently announced that he is aiming to be a part of Pakistan’s World T20 plans.

Surely the Pakistan Super League will allow the selectors to judge all the players; however I believe that Pakistan should seek continuity rather than stop-gap solutions. It is about time that Pakistan adopts an effective selection strategy for the World T20, similar to what they have done for the test team. While the Pakistan Super League performances can help selectors finalize candidates for the two or three vacant positions, majority of the squad should be in their mind right now.

This is the 15 I would go with: Shahid Afridi (C), Mohammad Hafeez, Ahmed Shehzad, Umar Akmal, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Mukhtar Ahmed, Sherjeel Khan, Sarfraz Ahmed (WK), Imad Wasim, Mohammad Aamer, Wahab Riaz, Umar Gul, Anwar Ali, Yasir Shah (if cleared) or Zafar Gohar.

Whoever the selectors decide on, they should ensure that they select the same 15 for the Asia Cup T20 and the World T20. Ensure continuity and provide the players to settle down as a team ahead of the T20 championship.

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