Shoaib Malik is all set to take over the reins of Pakistan cricket team for an interim period as six leading players have been given rest for the Australian series, ahead of the World Cup. Captain Sarfaraz Ahmed, Babar Azam, Hasan Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Shaheen Afridi, and Shadab Khan have been given a rest. The places that have opened up have allowed the return of some familiar and new faces.
In the absence of Sarfaraz, Mohammad Rizwan is set to continue as the keeper. However, Inzamam ul Haq in no uncertain terms cleared that Sarfraz remains and will return for the series against England, weeks before the World Cup.
"Sarfaraz is our captain and if anyone scores run in his absence that doesn't mean that he should be worried about his place. Sarfaraz did well as the captain and has won games with the bat for Pakistan. He is our captain and he can't be compared with any other player, Inzamam said.
Hussain Talat was the other man dropped from the ODI squad that toured South Africa, while Mohammad Hafeez misses out due to the thumb injury. He is expected to be fit before the World Cup.
"I am pleased we have been able to develop a strong bench-strength that has helped us make eight changes from the previous series. With a stronger bench, we can have a stronger Pakistan team. This is a good sign for Pakistan cricket as we now have a big pool of players who have the capability, talent and potential and are raring to step up and seize the opportunity when thrown at the deep end. The changes have been made taking into consideration the players workload in the build-up to the World Cup, which starts on 30 May. Apart from five ODIs against Australia, we have three warm-up games followed by five ODIs against England and then two World Cup warm-up matches followed by, at least, nine games. This is too much cricket in a short period of time. Had there been no pre-World Cup matches in England, then we would not have made such changes,” Inzamam said.
In the top order, Abid Ali finally gets his chance after scoring heavily at the domestic level. Similarly, Shan Masood will hope this time he does get his chance at the top of the order, having been part of the ODI setup on and off. Harris Sohail also returns after injury. However, the most interesting return is perhaps is of Umer Akmal. At the cusp of the World Cup, a good ODI series can give him a plane ticket to England. It also perhaps ends the debate about Asif Ali’s inclusion. Saad Ali is another one who has been brought in the side due to the weight of domestic runs.
On the bowling front, Junaid Khan returns after he missed the South Africa tour due to injury concerns. Mohammad Abbas is also selected. Perhaps the selector wants to check his white ball performance and carry him the World Cup squad in case the team counters ‘typically English conditions’. Also, it is the speedster Mohammad Hasnain of Quetta Gladiators, who clocked 150kph during the PSL.
"While Haris Sohail, Junaid Khan, Umar Akmal and Yasir Shah are returning to ODI cricket, Abid Ali, Mohammad Abbas, Mohammad Hasnain and Saad Ali have been rewarded for stellar performances in domestic cricket," Inzamam said. "The series against the world champions will not be an easy one and these players will be tested to their limits. This will provide these players a great opportunity to display their skills and temperament, strengthening their claims for a World Cup call-up as there are a few places up for grabs."
The 5 match series will provide an incredible opportunity to the selected players to demonstrate their talents and get a chance to perform at the biggest stage of them all. The series starts in Dubai on the 22nd of March.
Full squad: Shoaib Malik (captain), Shan Masood, Imam-ul-Haq, Haris Sohail, Faheem Ashraf, Imad Wasim, Mohammad Rizwan (wk), Abid Ali, Saad Ali, Umar Akmal, Junaid Khan, Yasir Shah, Usman Shinwari, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Abbas and Mohammad Hasnain.