Who should Pakistan take to the ICC Champions Trophy?

Sarfraz Ahmed
The ICC Champions Trophy will test Sarfraz Ahmed big time. — AFP/File

Sarfraz Ahmed-led Pakistan will visit England for their first big campaign under their newly-appointed leader in June.

The team is once again under-going transition — but this time Head coach Mickey Arthur has called onto the players to adapt quickly to the fast-changing nature of the game.

As we await the announcement of the Pakistan squad for the mega-event, Haroon Ahmed jolts down his views on who should make it to the national roster.

Babar Azam – A no brainer. Babar is a fantastic ODI batsman and is one of the first names on the team list. Yes he’s done brilliant as a number 3 batsman, but I personally feel him opening will help solve a lot of issues for Pakistan. I’ve followed most of Babar’s career ever since he was an u19 product, and he’s regularly opened the batting showing he is accustomed to the role. Even then, a number 3 in the Pakistan line up is virtually an opener anyway.

Umer Amin – This might be a surprise selection, but I feel Amin will be a top selection. The left-handers game is suited to the top order. Only in Pakistan would a batsman of his class and poise be positioned at number 6 and 7. His compact technique makes him the perfect man for the opener slot. The general consensus in Pakistan cricket is that he’s had enough chances, I couldn’t disagree more. Amin has played 15 ODI’s over seven years. That equates to around 2 ODI’s per year. Is this really the way to develop a batsman? The bonus is he is a left-hander therefore he adds variety to the batting line up. It’s imperative you have a left-right combination up top. Amin also adds a handy option with the ball with his medium pace deliveries. In the conditions we could face in the United Kingdom I feel he will be handy.

Haris Sohail – Prior to his injury, Haris emerged as one of Pakistan’s best ODI batsmen averaging over 40 in the format. What makes him so special is his ability to rotate strike and keep a consistent pace throughout his innings. His overall strength is the way he handles pace bowling and it was evident in the 2015 World Cup where he regularly impressed. Haris’s recent form has been superb having just recently scored his maiden list a century. I believe it’s the perfect time for the selectors to capitalise on his great form. The Babar Azam and Haris Sohail combination will work wonders for Pakistan.

Sarfaraz Ahmed – As a batsman Sarfaraz has improved leaps and bounds. In the recent ODI series I felt he was batting too low wasting his extraordinary ability to rotate strike. When it comes to strike rotation against the spinners, I don’t see a better batsman then Sarfaraz Ahmed and it’s important Pakistan utilise his skills to the max. In overs 40-50 Sarfaraz has only hit one six showing his game isn’t suited towards the death of the innings. He simply doesn’t have the power game. Number 4 is the ideal position for the skipper of Pakistan.

Shoaib Malik – Since his comeback the ex-skipper has performed in almost every series. He’s stood up as a senior cricketer and made himself noticed. He too excels in the middle overs through strike rotation. When it comes to chasing down a total, there is no better batsman in Pakistan then Shoaib Malik. In his last innings in England he scored a 70 odd to chase down 300 showing he has it in him to construct and pace an innings well.

Umar Akmal – The last time Pakistan went to a Champions Trophy event, Umar Akmal was left out of the squad despite having two 50’s in his last three innings. I hope this isn’t the case this time. In Umar, I see a magnificent batsman who hasn’t realised his own potential. He’s been messed around with coaches and captains but now he is at a crucial stage in his career where he has to make every opportunity count.

Amir Yamin – Yamin is everything the Pakistan ODI team needs. A late order finisher and a new ball swing bowler. In his last ODI innings, Yamin registered 60 runs. He’s since been dropped for close to two years for no apparent reason. The Pakistani selectors have neglected his skills, which is alarming considering the lack of fast bowling all-rounders in Pakistan. The all-rounder is going through a sensational run of form in the on-going Pakistan Cup constantly providing his team with late order runs, something the Pakistan team is in need of.

Shadab Khan – The leg-spinner was thrust into the limelight after a splendid PSL tournament where he troubled some of the world’s best. He’s since gone on to represent Pakistan in two of the three formats highlighting the kind of talent and ability he has. His form in the recent ODI series against the West Indies wasn’t too impressive, however, I felt his captain didn’t use him well. Shadab should be used as an attacking weapon in the middle overs, rather then someone at the death.

Sohail Khan – Only in Pakistan would Sohail Khan be selected for the test team, but not the shorter formats. He has fitness issues, but they wouldn’t be as apparent in limited overs cricket. Sohail is a fantastic cricketer and with the ball he knows how to get wickets. He swings the new ball away, is able to get reverse with the older ball and he has the ability to bowl at the death through yorkers and changes of pace. Add to that, his ability with the bat. Towards the death of the innings his late order hitting will be useful for Pakistan.

Hasan Ali – In his short international career so far, Hasan has proved to be a wicket taker taking two 5-fers in less then 20 games. At times he can be expensive, but that’s the risk you take with wicket taking bowlers. Hasan is the kind of bowler that can win you a game from nowhere, and in my mind he should play all three games in the Champions Trophy.

Mohammed Amir – Since his comeback, Amir hasn’t set the world alight. But, he hasn’t done too badly either. You just sense that he’s one spell away from getting back to his best. The question is, how long can Pakistan wait for that spell? I do see slight improvements in his bowling of late, therefore I’d continue with him. I feel he has to improve on the length that he’s bowling through pushing the ball further up allowing it to swing. So far, he’s bowled short of a good length allowing batsman time to negotiate the swing he generates.

Imad Wasim – I am a big supporter of Imad Wasim. In every game he gives it his 100% whether it’s with the bat or ball. I just feel as if he’s not much of an attacking option and at times it can let Pakistan down. I have full confidence in Imad to string out dot balls, but at times you need more then that. The reason due to his lack of potency is simply the lack of spin he imparts on the ball. The general trend thus far in Imad’s career is that once teams start to understand what he does with the ball, he becomes less effective.

Mohammad Hafeez – Although I wouldn’t start with Hafeez, it would be difficult to leave him out of the entire squad based on his form in the West Indies. Hafeez is brought into the team to help with the balance; ironically it is him who makes it unbalanced. If he bats at 3, he is pushing Babar down to 4. If he bats at 4, he is pushing Sarfaraz down at 6. His overall record in the UK is abysmal and doesn’t inspire me therefore I’d keep Hafeez on the bench. Adding to this, since he has reformed his action, he hasn’t looked half as threatening.

Rumman Raees – In 41 list-a games, Rumman has taken 61 wickets showing his ability isn’t restricted solely to the t20 format. I’d have him in the squad largely due to his ability at the death through his use of slower balls and yorkers. He’s also a brilliant fielder.

Hussain Talat – The final position of my squad would go to Hussain Talat. The best thing about Talat is he has the ability to bat at anywhere in the batting order showing he is versatile and that he has the ability to adapt. He showed a glimpse of his batting prowess in the PSL smashing 50 on his debut innings. As well as that, he also had an impressive emerging cup in Bangladesh where he finished as man of the match in one of the games. His overall list-a record is impressive averaging 45 at a strike rate of 88 with the bat.

One of the key players I’ve left out is Ahmed Shehzad. This is as I feel his performance in the limited overs leg during the tour of West Indies was unsatisfactory. We want the Pakistan team to be able to score totals in excess of 300, but this isn’t possible when your opener is striking at 72. Shehzad has immense talent but it is his approach that is letting him down.

The second key cricketer omitted from my squad is Wahab Riaz. This was an extremely tough decision as I’ve been a massive supporter of Wahab over the years. The main reason for his exclusion was his poor record in ODI’s over the past year. His constant short ball barrage hasn’t worked well, and he doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes.

The final cricketer left out is Junaid Khan. Whilst Junaid had a fairly decent tour of the West Indies, I don’t feel as if he’s a long-term option. With the ball he is limited, and other then that he doesn’t bring anything to the squad being a poor batsman and fielder. His form in the on-going Pakistan Cup doesn’t seem too impressive either.

The balance of the squad I’ve picked is what makes it stand out. We have two left arm pacers in Amir and Rumman. We have three right arm seamers in Sohail, Hasan and Yamin. We have two medium pace options in Talat and Amin, which I feel will be handy in the UK. We have two right arm off-spinners in Malik and Hafeez. We have a leg-spinner in Shadab. We have new ball swing with Sohail, who swings it away and then Yamin who shapes it in. The contrast in swing between the two would make it a difficult proposition for the opposing team.

At the death we have the likes of Sohail and Hasan who can nail the yorkers in. One of the biggest issues with Pakistan cricket in the recent past is the late order hitting. This seems to be rectified here with late order firepower in Malik, Akmal, Yamin, Shadab and Sohail Khan.

In the middle overs you have guys who can rotate strike in Malik and Sarfaraz. The main benefit I feel is you have a left-hander up top in Amin and then left-hander in the middle order, which helps with balance of the team. The right/left handed combination is imperative in a batting line up as it helps disrupt the bowler’s line.

The above squad however seems far-fetched and I doubt the chief selector will take such bold steps. The reality is Pakistan will likely go with Azhar Ali, Hafeez, Babar, Malik, Sarfaraz and Umar Akmal in the top six. All right handed batsmen. I believe it is a poor balance and it won’t work well in the Champions Trophy, especially against some of the bowling attacks we will encounter. I see the likes of Jadeja, Yuvraj, Pathirana, Maharaj and Tahir tying down the Pakistani batting line up. The squad is a recipe for disaster.

The chief selector won’t take such bold steps selecting the likes of Haris, Amin, Talat, Rumman as he’ll give ‘lack of experience’ as the reason. I believe this is a pathetic excuse. Experience doesn’t matter. We’re in the tournament to win it. We took ‘experience’ to the Champions Trophy in 2013 in the form of Misbah, Hafeez and Ajmal and we still lost 3-0 showing it has no bearing on the outcome. Rather we should select the best 15 in Pakistan who make up a balanced squad, and this is what I believe I’ve done.