The Pakistan team is well-balanced and a dangerous one!
When Pakistan announced their 16-man Asia Cup squad on Tuesday, it probably looked like the most balanced among all the teams. They have covered all their bases and apart from a couple of experienced names like Shoaib Malik and Sarfraz Ahmed, they are mostly banking on young guns to deliver in the tournament.
Squad: Fakhar Zaman, Imam Ul Haq, Shan Masood, Babar Azam, Shoaib Malik, Sarfraz Ahmed (c), Asif Ali, Haris Sohail, Shadab Khan, Muhammad Nawaz, Fahim Ashraf, Hasan Ali, Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Usman Shinwari, Shaheen Afridi
Pakistan’s squad hardly seems to have any weak points and hence are strong contenders to win the title.
A strong batting Line-up
The selectors have built a strong batting line-up with the perfect mix of youth and experience.
Fakhar Zaman and Imam ul Haq will most likely feature as the regular openers after their terrific run in Zimbabwe while Shan Masood has been called up as a backup opener. Zaman needs no introduction after he announced his arrival with terrific performances in the Champions Trophy last year and recently becoming the first Pakistani double Centurion in ODIs as well during the tour of Zimbabwe. The 22-year old Imam Ul Haq’s career is only 3 Tests and 9 ODIs old. But he has shown what he is capable of already with 4 ODI centuries under his belt.
The middle order consists of the talented Babar Azam and the experienced duo of Shoaib Malik and captain Sarfraz Ahmed. Azam ended his tour of Zimbabwe on a high after notching up 106 runs off just 76 deliveries and will look to carry on the good work for Pakistan at No. 3. The duo of Malik and Ahmed will bring steadiness into the Pakistani middle order bring all their experience to use. Asif Ali and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf will be their choices for No. 6 and No. 7 positions while Haris Sohail has a chance of getting a look into the middle order as well. Everyone knows what Ali is capable of as a finisher after a terrific PSL season and a fabulous tour of Zimbabwe. He will be looking forward to establishing himself as one of the first names in the team.
Good all-round and part-time options
Faheem Ashraf is making a steady rise in world cricket as a seam-bowling all-rounder. While the 24-year old is yet to prove himself with the bat, 16 wickets at an average of 20.31 and economy of 4.24 in 12 ODIs gives enough idea about his bowling abilities.
Mohammad Nawaz is another all-round spin bowling option they can turn to. His left arm orthodox bowling has proved to be very effective for Pakistan in recent times. But he will have to compete for his place in the side with Ashraf and Shadab Khan as the preferred choices. Although a spinner, Shadab has shown extremely handy batting abilities in his career thus far.
As far as part-time options are concerned, Pakistan have two spin bowling part-timers in Shoaib Malik and Haris Sohail in their squad. However, Malik would have to bowl most of the overs in times of necessity as Sohail isn’t expected to feature regularly in the XI.
A dangerous bowling attack
Pakistan’s fast bowling unit looks power-packed and the best in the business this time. They have four left-arm seamers in Mohammad Amir, Junaid Khan, Usman Khan and the 18-year old Shaheen Afridi. Add to that the more than effective right arm seam bowling of Faheem Ashraf and the talented Hasan Ali who is Pakistan’s best fast bowling asset at present.
Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali will be the first choice pacers while only one among Junaid, Usman and Afridi will be seen making it to the XI in alternate matches. With Ashraf there as well, Pakistan will go into all matches with a four-pronged pace attack.
The spin department might look like lacking venom. But Shadab Khan is more than capable of making the batsmen dance to his leg spin. With Nawaz playing the supporting act with his left arm orthodox bowling, Pakistan are capable of destroying their opponents as long as the spinners revolve around their pace bowling unit.
The experienced Mohammad Hafeez’s exclusion is probably the most talked about point. A veteran of 200 ODIs, Hafeez didn’t feature in any of the matches in Zimbabwe despite being in the squad. And now with him being dropped, it looks quite tough for him to make a comeback. But chief selector Inzamam Ul Haq has assured that the 37-year old is still a part of their World Cup plans.
“Hafeez is a part of the 20-22 players that we are considering for the World Cup,” he said. “Shan Masood is also a part of it. Hafeez is a good player and now he can bowl as well. But, we have other options now. There is much more cricket after the Asia Cup. At this moment, we are trying other options,” Inzamam said.
The 29-year old Imad Wasim has played quite some instrumental roles in Pakistan’s limited-overs victories with his all-round exploits. However, his fitness issues have crept up again as he failed to clear the yo-yo test on repeated attempts.
“We have a clear stance that only those players who pass the fitness tests should be selected,” Inzamam said. “Those who are unable to do so are provided two to three chances. Imad was also provided those chances, but he failed. He has performed for Pakistan when he has played and he would have been a good addition to the side. But, we are not going to compromise on our stance related to the fitness.”
Shan Masood has turned out to be the surprise inclusion in this squad as he has only been considered as a Test specialist till now. But he has been on a terrific run of form in domestic limited overs matches of late having struck three centuries and five half-centuries in the last 10 List-A matches. So, there are high chances of him making his ODI debut this Asia Cup.
Apart from Hafeez’s exclusion and Wasim failing to clear fitness test, there is hardly anything at all to complain about the way the selectors have gone about their business. Pakistan have a full-strength squad and they are one of the favourites to win the Trophy this year.