A young Pakistan team would tour to England and Ireland this year…..
Pakistan and Sri Lanka are the only two nations who did not lose their maiden Test series in England. While the Lankans clinched a 0-0 draw, Pakistan defeated the hosts in a Test to draw the series 1-1. Pakistan went a total of five series in England without a series win before they finally won in 1987. It was a memorable era for Pakistan as they tasted victories in three consecutive series wins in England between 1987 and 1996.
The win in 1996 still remains to be Pakistan’s last series win in England in the longest format. Following which they have played three series – two drew and lost one – and hence, it is important for Pakistan to head to England with their best possible combinations of players.
Pakistan selectors attracted criticism for the Test squad they chose to tour Ireland and England for a total of three Tests. Pakistan’s tour is set to commence in May which will include Ireland’s maiden Test and two Tests against England at Lord’s and Headingley.
Pakistan’s squad has five uncapped players who will be making their Test debut over the course of three Tests. The batting trio of Fakhar Zaman, Usman Salahuddin and Saad Ali, Imam and all-rounder rookie Faheem Ashraf were named in the 16-man squad. While Imam and Zaman have played ODI cricket, the rest will be representing Pakistan for the very first time.
The fact that the squad includes five uncapped players in Tests, four openers, nine out 16 players are inexperienced having played less than five matches for Pakistan has not been taken well among the former players and fans.
The curious case of Fawad Alam
Choosing Imam over Fawad has triggered a huge debate in Pakistan. Critics and fans say, although Imam has played four ODIs and has a century on debut, his numbers in comparison to Fawad are not convincing. If Saad Ali was selected on the basis of his performance in the previous domestic tournament, then Fawad should have had an upper hand over Imam. To Fawad’s 570 runs in 10 matches, Imam has 222 runs in five matches, an average not even 30. If the selectors took the age factor into consideration, Fawad was better than most of the youngsters in the team even a decade back.
In the last three seasons, Fawad has 672 runs in eight matches, 499 runs in nine matches and 570 runs in 10 matches in the 2017-18 season of Quaid-Azam Trophy, Pakistan’s domestic first-class competition.
Fawad was among the 25 players, who were called for the training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium a while ago for the England tour. He scored an impressive 19 on the Endurance Test, ahead of skipper Sarfraz Ahmed and much younger players like Hasan Ali, Babar Azam and Zaman. Nevertheless, he was ignored, yet again to the dissatisfaction of fans and critics.
But there is always a “but” regarding such cases.
Domestic cricket is supposed to be a platform that prepares the players for the highest arena of international cricket. However, in sub-continent nations like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, the gap between domestic and international cricket continues to remain huge. It is wrong to assume that players who have performed well in domestic tournaments will certainly replicate that on the international level too.
Pakistan have examples of Zahid Fazal and Asif Mujtaba who were fine domestic players but could not pull it off in Test cricket. Zahid scored 5000-plus First-Class runs with the highest score of an unbeaten 201. However, when it came to Test cricket, in his first year, he played three Tests against West Indies, where he managed only 75 runs at an embarrassing average of 12.50. He went on play only six more Tests in his career, which ended with 288 runs at an average of 18 with no hundreds and one fifty.
On the other hand, Mujtaba, who averaged almost 50 in First-Class cricket, ended up with a below-par average of 26.04 in Tests. While he scored 49 hundreds and 93 fifties in the 291 First-Class matches he played, he managed only eight Test fifties and no hundreds. More than Fazal, Mujtaba is the better example of domestic kings not turning out to be the same in Test cricket.
International cricket requires temperament and technique of best qualities and that is where Fawad fails to cut the mustard. He has failed to live up to the expectations previously and was found wanting under pressure and quality bowling attack. Technically, he is not well-equipped to meet the demands of international cricket whereas, one cannot disagree, Imam has a better technique than Fawad and bears a lot of promise for future.
On four openers
The decision to rope in four openers for the England-Ireland tour is even more bewildering because the series consists of just three Tests. Considering the conditions in England, it is more than sure that Pakistan will pick Sami Aslam and Azhar Ali. Apart from them, it is understandable why Zaman was selected in the Test squad as his debut was long due now. Since his First-Class debut in 2013, he has averaged above 40, most of the times with his best score in the domestic circuit being 205.
Moreover, his ODI performance since his debut in 2017 has been impressive. From 13 matches, he already has scored 550 runs with one hundred and four fifties. To top it, he has a match-winning century in the final of ICC Champions Trophy 2017 against India and co-incidentally the tournament was played in England. Then there would be Imam, who has the talent and stomach to perform at highest level.
Challenge for middle-order
Pakistan would surely miss the likes of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq in England. It would be interesting to see how Babar Azam, Haris Sohail, Sarfraz Ahmed and Asad Shafiq handle the pressure and guile of English pacers. It would require a lot of character for this young and inexperienced to prove a point in England.
The bowling department
To top it off, Pakistan’s bowling attack weakened the day Yasir Shah’s injury news broke.
Yaisr Shah was Pakistan’s key bowler during their previous visit to England back in 2016. He picked as many as 19 wickets in that particular tour, the second best after Chris Woakes’ 26. He took a match-winning 10 wickets in Pakistan’s victory at Lord’s in 2016 on their way to a 2-2 series draw in England. Putting Yasir’s value in the team into perspective, he raced to 100 wickets in 17 Tests, along with taking 150 wickets in 27 Tests. He was the second-fastest player in Pakistan to achieve both milestones.
Moreover, Yasir has been vital to Pakistan’s Test wins since 2014, having taken 165 wickets in 28 Test matches. He suffered a hip fracture and needs four weeks of rest with additional six weeks of rehab. “Yasir is ruled out of the Ireland and England Test tours and it’s a big blow. It’s a big loss for the team,” Inzamam told local media.
A 19-year-old Shadab Khan has been called in replacement of the 28-Test Yasir Shah for the England/Ireland tour. The teenager has an experience of 17 ODIs but only one Test, which he played at Barbados last year, where he had managed to grab only one wicket.
Speaking of the pace department, Mohammad Amir will spearhead the fast bowling department but he has not been in the greatest of forms since his return in 2016. He has clinched only 44 scalps at an average of 37.25 since his return to the set-up in 2016. Hasan Ali, Mohammad Abbas and Rahat Ali are the other pacers in the squad, who also have to struggle hard to prove their selection right while there was no place for pacer Wahab Riaz., who, for the last couple of season has not been performing very well.
While the legendary Inzamam-Ul-Haq has explained that since the 2019 Cricket World Cup is in England, they have gone with a young squad. Although Pakistan is the most unpredictable team among the cricketing nations, with the current squad, Pakistan’s Test series win in England is pretty uncertain.