Monday, March 11, 2019

New Faces in Pakistan's ODI Squad Vying for a place in the World Cup Squad

Pakistan recently announced a 16-man squad for the 5 match ODI series against Australia, which will be played in the UAE, starting 22nd March.

Pakistan have decided to rest a number of their key players, including captain Sarfraz Ahmed, keeping in mind the hectic PSL schedule and the upcoming ICC World Cup.

There are more ODIs to be played leading up to the World Cup so Pakistan can afford to rest the likes of Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, Hasan Ali, and Shaheen Afridi who have been playing all formats for Pakistan since the start of this season.

This also gives the Green Caps a chance to test their bench strength and build a strong squad for the World Cup. There are still a few places up for grabs in the 15-man WC squad, and this series against Australia will help the selectors decide who will be on that plane to England in the summer.

Here is a look at the new additions to Pakistan's ODI squad.

In my view, Fakhar, Imam, Babar, Hafeez, and Malik are automatic selections for Pakistan's World Cup Squad, which leaves space for two more batsmen.

Asif Ali wasted the ODI opportunities he was given, and Hussain Talat did not do enough either to grab his chances.

This sets up the competition among the 4 new names in Pakistan's ODI squad and any of these two have the chance to make it to the World Cup by impressing the selectors and team management against Australia.

Not a new name for anyone, but the last time Umar Akmal played an ODI was over two years ago in January 2017. He still has a healthy average and strike rate in ODIs but he was dumped by Pakistan following lackluster form that saw him make only two 50+ scores in his last 25 ODI innings.

Umar has been in scintillating form in the PSL having scored 228 runs in 8 innings at an average of 38 and strike rate of 136.5.

In addition to this, he has also performed well at the domestic level - in the Quaid-e-Azam One Day Cup he was among the leading run scorers with 410 runs in 10 innings at an average of 41.

Umar Akmal has been given a great opportunity to extend his domestic form to the international level and cement a place in Pakistan's World Cup squad.

He is also not a new name, however Shan is yet to play ODI cricket for Pakistan. While he has been in and out of the test team for the past few years, he has been on the fringes of ODI selection on the back of his magnificent domestic form.

Shan's current List A average of 56.5 has just fallen behind Michael Bevan's, but a few months ago, Shan held the world record List A average.

Shan had a breakthrough 2018, finishing the year as the leading run scorer in all List A matches. He amassed 1,789 runs in 30 innings at an average of 74.54. His 30 innings included 7 hundreds and 10 fifties!

That run tally included 5 innings for Pakistan A against the England Lions, where Shan was the second highest run scorer between both sides, with 238 runs at an average of 47.6.

With Fakhar rested for the series against Australia, Shan will definitely make his ODI debut and he is in with a chance to make the World Cup squad as a third opener.

He is a domestic veteran having been around Pakistan's domestic circuit for the past 14 years, during which Abid Ali has played 91 List A and 102 First Class Matches.

He averages 38 in both formats, which is not world class, but following a successful 2018, he was deserving of chance, which he has got now.

2018 was his most successful year yet, where he scored 1,318 runs in 24 List A innings, including 3 hundreds and 9 fifties. He ended the year with a List A average of 60! This included 299 runs in 5 innings in the Quaid-e-Azam One Day Cup where he averaged 59.8. His 5 innings included 4 fifties with a top score of 91.

He got only two chances in the List A matches against England Lions, and in one of those he smashed 140. He was also among the leading run scorers in First Class matches against the England Lions and New Zealand A, scoring a century against each of the teams.

Abid Ali will have to make the most of his chances against Australia to be in the running for the 1-2 batting spots that are available in Pakistan's WC squad.

He has been around the domestic circuit for almost 7 years and has an impressive List A and First Class record, averaging over 46 in both formats.

Saad impressed in the Quaid-e-Azam One Day Cup scoring 243 runs in 5 innings at an average of 48.6. He was also impressive in the only First Class innings he got against New Zealand A scoring 144.

Like Abid Ali, Saad will also have to make the most of his chances against Australia to try and impress the selectors for a World Cup selection.

Pakistan is spoiled for choice when it comes to pacers. The likes of Mohammad Aamir, Usman Khan Shinwari, Faheem Ashraf, Shaheen Afridi, and Hasan Ali are already in the fold.

And for the upcoming series against Australia, Pakistan have recalled Junaid Khan, given a first time chance to Mohammad Abbas, and are also going to try out the raw pace of 18-year old Mohammad Hasnain.

On the spin front, Shadab Khan and Imad Wasim should be the first pick for Pakistan's World Cup Squad, but Yasir Shah could also be considered if he can replicate his test form into ODIs in the series against Australia.

It is going to be tough for Pakistan to pick 7 bowlers out of this talented line up for the World Cup.

He is only 18 years old and has only played 2 First Class Matches and 4 T20 Matches - all of them in the ongoing PSL.

He has picked up 5 wickets in the 4 PSL matches and has impressed everyone with his sheer pace, at times clocking over 150kmh!

Considering Pakistan's battery of pacers, Mohammad Hasnain may find it tough to make it to the World Cup squad, but you never know what could happen if he excels in the ODI series against Australia.

He has been Pakistan's Test spearhead for the past two years, picking up 66 wickets at an average of under 19 in the 14 tests he has played.

He has an impressive List A record too with an average a shade under 28 and an economy rate well under 5. Yet he has never been tried in ODIs by Pakistan.

He has had most of his test success on the docile UAE pitches, and he also spearheaded Pakistan's test win at Lord's last summer with an 8 wicket haul that got him the Man of the Match Award.

His bowling style is well suited for English pitches and if he performs in the ODIs against Australia he could be the first name on Pakistan's team sheet come the World Cup.

Injuries and indifferent attitude of the selectors towards him has kept Junaid in and out of Pakistan's ODI squads.

He is among the senior bowlers for Pakistan and has a super international record with 104 wickets at an average of 27.8 and an economy rate of 5.2.

In my view he is an automatic selection for the World Cup, but with this ODI series against Australia being considered his comeback, he would need to impress the right people given the number of left arm pacers Pakistan already has.

In the 19 ODIs that Yasir has played, of which the last was in July 2018, he has never really excelled the way he has in Tests.

He is Pakistan's go to spinner in tests, but Shadab and Imad have been preferred in the shorter formats.

Including Yasir in the presence of Shadab and Imad along with the part time of Hafeez and Malik seems superfluous, and two leg spinners in a playing XI never really makes sense.

I don't think Yasir has a chance to make it to the World Cup squad, and it could be that he was considered for this series to allow Shadab some rest.

Pakistan are going into the series against Australia with 5 uncapped players - Shan Masood, Abid Ali, Saad Ali, Mohammad Hasnain, and Mohammad Abbas; and 3 players who are returning to ODIs - Umar Akmal, Junaid Khan, and Yasir Shah.

It is the perfect opportunity for all of these players to display their talent and book a ticket to England for the summer.

It will be interesting to watch how these players perform in the ODI series against Australia and who from there makes it to the World Cup party.

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