Pakistan: The team to watch

There are a few new faces in the team but that has always been Pakistan’s strength. Coach Waqar Younis backs the team to do well.

Mohammad Amir will spearhead the Pakistan attack.   -  Getty Images

For the former champion it should be a motivating thought just to have another go at the title. When Pakistan won the World T20 crown in 2009, it was just the platform and time to come good for a team that has always been an underachiever. The 1992 World Cup triumph, shaped by Imran Khan’s brilliance as a leader, was expected to open up more avenues for Pakistan cricket. The team lived up to its reputation on a few occasions but overall, Pakistan did not seem to be the team that knew well how to play to its potential.

The 2016 World T20 Championship in India offers Pakistan a chance for redemption. In the absence of international cricket at home, Pakistan has been finding it tough to nurture young talent. Yet the team has managed to keep its focus by playing on placid tracks in the Middle East and winning a few Test series.

As Sunil Gavaskar wrote recently, Pakistan selects players from the ‘nets’ and open trials, and the fierce drive to make it to the big league is what transforms the team into a competitive unit. Pakistan may not be at its best but the team cannot be taken lightly.

There are a few new faces in the team but that has always been Pakistan’s strength. Coach Waqar Younis backs the team to do well. Having seen the team at its prime and been part of some great triumphs, Waqar is the ideal man to guide the youngsters.

Pakistan had initially picked four uncapped players in the T20I format — batsmen Khurram Manzoor and Babar Azam, all-rounder Mohammad Nawaz and fast bowler Rumman Raees — but later made three changes to the squad, with Sharjeel Khan, Mohammad Sami and Khalid Latif coming in for Babar Azam, Rumman Raees and Iftikhar Ahmed.

The return of fast bowler Mohammad Irfan strengthens the attack even though the pitches in India are unlikely to offer much help to the fast bowlers. Pakistan dropped a bombshell though by leaving out the gifted opener Ahmed Shehzad. The decision could hurt Pakistan because he is considered a batsman with a great future and has the ability to give the innings the right direction. However, his recent lack of form has cost him a place in the team.

The Pakistan chief selector, Haroon Rashid’s statement explained the selection well. “While picking the squad, the team management and skipper were consulted and all concerned gave their consent in this regard. The T20 team has been selected keeping in mind the conditions during the World T20 and the recent performances of some players in domestic and ‘A’ team tours. The team is a fine blend of experience and youth and the selectors believe that the team will do well,” said Rashid.

By dropping Umar Gul, who was in the Pakistan team for the tour of New Zealand in January, the selectors may have indicated horses-for-courses policy. However, the variety that Gul packs in his bowling has always tested the best of batsmen and his absence will certainly undermine the Pakistan attack.

Pakistan’s bowling will be spearheaded by the wily Mohammad Amir, Wahab Riaz and Anwar Ali, who form a lethal trio. They will be backed by Irfan, who has the ability to get the ball to kick up from a good length even on dead tracks. The Pakistan team may not include a specialist spinner, but there are players like Afridi, Imad Wasim and Shoaib Malik, who can chip in with the slow variety.

Young left-armer Mohammad Nawaz, who is more of a batsman, has been selected based on his outstanding performance in the Pakistan Super League.

The new-look Pakistan will be the team to watch in the tournament.

The team:

Shahid Afridi (captain), Mohammad Hafeez, Shoaib Malik, Umar Akmal, Sarfraz Ahmed, Sharjeel Khan, Khalid Latif, Imad Wasim, Anwar Ali, Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Sami, Khurram Manzoor and Mohammad Nawaz.

Players with punch:

Mohammad Amir: The left-arm fast bowler, back in international cricket after serving a five-year ban for spot fixing, has lost nothing of his amazing skills to make the ball talk. Because of his ability to run through the top order, Amir’s bowling would be the clinching factor for Pakistan.

Mohammad Hafeez: The veteran opener has the qualities to carry the innings on his shoulders. The team needs solidity at the top and he is the right person for the task. Hafeez can also bring his innovative approach to make things easier for the younger lot in the middle order.