LAHORE  -  Nepotism is at its peak in the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) where chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq has preferred his nephew Imam-ul-Haq to the most consistent domestic performer Fawad Alam in the Test squad for England series to be held next month.

It is quite unfortunate that 32-year-old in-form batsman Fawad Alam once against failed to make the Test squad despite his strong domestic form. Fawad, among the 25 players called up for the training camp recently held at the Gaddafi Stadium, scored an impressive 19 in the Yo-Yo Endurance Test, ahead of skipper Sarfraz and much younger players Hassan Ali, Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman. However, he was ignored while a number of younger batsmen including Saad Ali, Imam-ul-Haq and Usman Salahuddin made the cut.

Saad Ali (51.42), who is Karachi-based upper order batsman and was the highest run-scorer in last year's Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, and Inzamam’s nephew Imam-ul-Haq (43.57), both have an average much less than Fawad's (55.37) in the domestic circuit. Despite it being one of his worst seasons in the domestic circuit, Fawad was the sixth highest run-scorer of the tournament with 570 runs at an average just above 40.

The Test squad contains a notably large batting contingent, with youth more prevalent than experience. As many as five players could be in line for their Test debuts over the three games, which include Inzamam’s nephew Imam-ul-Haq, Fakhar Zaman, Usman Salahuddin, Saad Ali and Faheem Ashraf. The selection of four openers, five uncapped players and nine very young players, who have played less than 5 matches for Pakistan, is too hard to digest for many former greats and cricket lovers.

In three Test matches, why is there a need of four openers? With the expected conditions, Sami Aslam and Azhar Ali are likely to open. One could understand the need of Fakhar Zaman. Fawad Alam could have been included, especially as Pakistan’s middle order underperformed against Sri Lanka. It would have given much-needed experience to the middle order. Saad Ali’s inclusion is based on domestic performance of the season while Fakhar Zaman on his white ball performance (his 1st class record is better than Imam too), while Sami Aslam performed well in the 2016 series but the question arises that on what grounds was Imam picked in the national side?

Pakistan squad also looks weak in bowling department, where M Amir will lead the pace attack but he has been struggling in the longest format of the game, where he bagged only 44 scalps at an average of 37.25 since his return to the set-up in 2016. Hasan Ali, M 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. With Yasir Shah ruled out of the tours due to a groin injury, Shadab Khan will lead the spin attack. In such scenario, it seems it will be too tough for green caps to bowl out English batsmen twice in a match.

With such poor team selection, how can one expect better results from Pakistan team? But it is Pakistan, where anything can happen, where PCB chairman can term the constant injustice against Fawad Alam as a ‘Karachi’ issue and no one bats an eye. When chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq was asked about Fawad’s exclusion from the side, he couldn’t justify it and said that 16 players had to be selected out of 25 called for the training camp. "It does not mean that others were not up to the mark but those, who participated in the camp, would also be considered for future tours.

"The World Cup next year is in England. So we have decided to call up several young players to give them exposure to those conditions," Inzamam told reporters during the press conference. "This is a great opportunity for us, particularly our batsmen, to gain experience in this conditions," he added.

Pakistan suffered a major setback last week when ace leg-spinner Yasir Shah was ruled out of the tour with a hip bone fracture. Shah was replaced with teenager Shadab Khan, who has only played one Test. "Yasir's absence is a big loss for us," Haq said. "If we look at his numbers for the last two years, he has more wickets than any other bowler for Pakistan. He was our strike bowler. He played a big part in all the games we won."

Regarding the inclusion of Hassan Ali, he said he thought the cricketer was a good Test bowler and would be useful on England's swinging wickets. When asked whether Wahab was excluded because of Head Coach Mickey Arthur's recent criticism of the player, Inzi said the pacer ‘has not performed well recently’.

The chief selector said that the selectors had tried to strengthen the side's batting, which was weakened after the retirement last year of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younus Khan. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed is the only specialist wicketkeeper in the squad. Ireland will play their first-ever Test against Pakistan from May 11-15 in Dublin. Pakistan will then play two Tests against England -- at Lord´s (May 24-28) and Headingley (June 1-5).

SQUAD: Sarfraz Ahmed (capt), Azhar Ali, Fakhar Zaman, Sami Aslam, Imam-ul-Haq, Babar Azam, Asad Shafiq, Haris Sohail, Usman Salahuddin, Saad Ali, Shadab Khan, Faheem Ashraf, Mohammad Amir, Hasan Ali, Rahat Ali, M Abbas.

 

 

 

AZHAR KHAN