Pakistan Chief Selector Mohammad Wasim has recently been in the limelight after announcing the squads for Pakistan's tours of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Whilst Wasim has painstakingly explained his stance on selection matters, recent media reports have cast doubt over his relationship with Pakistan captain Babar Azam and other players.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Wasim spoke about a number of selection choices including that of excluding Yasir Shah, Imad Wasim and Haris Sohail, the continued inclusion of Sarfaraz Ahmed as the back-up for Mohammad Rizwan, commented on Mohammad Amir's decision to retire from international cricket, the decision to pick several untried players and explained why he always selects squads based on his own judgement rather than to please others.
By Saj Sadiq (24th March, 2021)
PakPassion.net: Yasir Shah has stated that he would have been fit for the tour of Zimbabwe and that nobody communicated to him that he was going to miss out on selection. Is this true?
Mohammad Wasim: It was a simple case as far as Yasir Shah’s situation was concerned. I was in touch with the team physio, and I saw Yasir’s medical reports. It was felt that Yasir needed more time to recover from his injury and in addition he would have needed time for his rehabilitation. So, there were too many ifs and buts regarding his fitness and availability for selection and it was a clear-cut case for us that he wasn’t fully fit for this tour.
PakPassion.net: Did you tell Yasir that he wasn’t going to be picked for the Test series against Zimbabwe?
Mohammad Wasim: I had a chat with Yasir and I explained everything to him about the fact that he was injured and he was well aware of that as he was struggling in the second Test match against South Africa. Also, we have planned with him that he will work at the NHPC with Saqlain Mushtaq and the physios will work with him on a fitness plan. Saqlain will look at his bowling and look at how the injury can be prevented in future. We want to make sure he completes his recovery and his rehabilitation and also to make sure that the injury doesn’t happen again. We wish to help him prolong his career, otherwise who knows how long he can continue to play with these types of injuries as they can be very damaging for him.
So this will give Yasir a chance to fully recover, make the adjustments that Saqlain Mushtaq and the other coaches recommend. Hopefully he will be pain-free and injury-free in future and he can serve Pakistan for the next three years at least.
PakPassion.net: Many people feel that Haris Sohail has been treated unfairly by not being picked for the Pakistan One-Day squad. What are your reasons for not picking him?
Mohammad Wasim: My major concern about Haris is his current level of fitness. I’ve seen him playing some domestic cricket and at the moment I can’t see him standing on the field for 100 overs or even close to 100 overs. I can’t see him batting for 50 overs or thereabouts either. There is no doubt he needs to improve his fitness and his current form. I spoke with him about his batting position and I told him that there could be a spot in the middle-order available to him, maybe 4, 5 or 6. For him to grab one of those spots he needs to improve his strike-rate and to show more commitment. He needs to keep up with the rest of the world and what the team needs from him.
He will be sent to the NHPC where he will work on developing a few more shots, to come out of his shell a bit and improve his strike-rate. He will be around but he needs to work on a few things, show more commitment and he will be back. We all know he is very talented, but I do think that he has the ability to serve the team better than what he has done so far in his international career.
PakPassion.net: What is the thinking behind picking Sarfaraz Ahmed as the back-up to Mohammad Rizwan in all formats. Would it not be better to give a youngster a chance in perhaps some of the formats?
Mohammad Wasim: We gave careful thought to this situation before the Pakistan Super League and came to the conclusion that Sarfaraz has been a very important part of the team for a long time. So, you want to make sure that if any chances come up then you are giving the chance to the most deserving and in-form person and that at the moment is Sarfaraz. We were also looking at the roles of the prospective replacement wicket-keepers and where they could bat. We know what Rizwan is capable of but we needed to look at what would happen if Rizwan gets injured and where any replacement would fit in. We wanted to look at the complete picture, including the strike-rate of the various options. The way Sarfaraz batted in the Pakistan Super League showed that he can be flexible and come down the order and bat with a high strike-rate. He made his case at the PSL and showed that he has still got it as a batsman and he gave us a clear message with his performances at the PSL.
In addition, I feel that we don’t have a young ready-made replacement wicket-keeper/batsman to replace Sarfaraz especially in red-ball cricket where he is far ahead of the competition. If you look at the white-ball formats, we have some youngsters like Rohail Nazir and Azam Khan and a couple of others, the potential is there but Sarfaraz with his performances at the PSL has made it even tougher for the youngsters which is a good sign as he has raised the bar. We’ll keep an eye on how things progress, but at the moment Sarfaraz is our second-best option when it comes to the wicket-keeper/batsman role.
PakPassion.net: What are your thoughts about Mohammad Amir’s retirement and is he a player that you would be interested in selecting if he took back his retirement?
Mohammad Wasim: It’s very difficult to comment about a player who is not available for the national team. He is not available for selection at the moment, if he was available then I could answer your question. As he is not available, I think it would be unfair on the players who are available if I made a comment about Amir.
PakPassion.net: Would you like to see Mohammad Amir take back his retirement from international cricket?
Mohammad Wasim: My stance on this issue is very simple. Retirement is not an easy decision for a player - it’s not a trivial thing. Whoever makes this decision and whenever they make it, it takes a lot of effort, a lot of thought and a lot of people are involved in making the decision including a player’s family and close friends. When someone makes such a big decision, then everyone should respect that decision and not wonder about whether that player should take back his decision or not. At the moment Amir has made his decision and we have to respect it. If he hadn’t retired then it would be a different scenario, but at the moment I respect his decision.
PakPassion.net: Shoaib Malik is nowhere to be seen in your squads, is it the end of his international career?
Mohammad Wasim: I spoke with Shoaib and we discussed my plans and his role. If he performs and there is a space for him then he might be considered. I’m not ruling him out but at the moment, as I told him, it will be difficult to pick him for the number he is batting at. We discussed a few things and he said he will work on those things and I’ll keep an eye on him at the PSL. He has the experience but what the team needs from him is something different. He knows exactly what he needs to do if he is to make an international comeback.
PakPassion.net: You have recently stated that Imad Wasim has limitations, can you elaborate on what you meant by this statement?
Mohammad Wasim: I had a chat with Imad and we discussed a few things about my future plans. But let me clarify my comments on limitations regarding Imad. Firstly, I could only send a certain number of white-ball players to South Africa and Zimbabwe, so I couldn’t send everyone there. I had that luxury for the home series where I could pick players for different formats but as this is a combined squad, I couldn’t send everyone, including the back-up players.
With Shadab coming back into the team as the main spin-bowling all-rounder there was only one slot available and then Imad was competing with Mohammad Nawaz for the second spot. Nawaz has been brilliant whenever he has played, in domestic and also for the national team. At the moment it is a comparison between Imad and Nawaz and if I look at current form then Nawaz has the edge. Nawaz also gives the captain the option that he can bowl in any situation, in any conditions and against any type of batsman and that’s where Imad has his limitations.
We have seen Imad being more effective with the new ball and if he doesn’t bowl with the new ball then his middle overs bowling is an area he needs to work on. If he’s not needed with the new ball and if the captain prefers another fast bowler to get him some early breakthroughs as he wants wicket-taking options from both ends, then Imad needs to improve his bowling in the middle overs against all types of batsmen including left-handers.
As a Twenty20 cricketer you need to be able to bat anywhere and bowl anytime in any conditions. At the moment I feel that Imad cannot do this and therefore he has his limitations. There are situations where he is useful, but he needs to improve on the areas which I have mentioned.
Imad will go to the NHPC and work with Saqlain Mushtaq and he will improve. I am not ruling out anyone for a recall and I am not saying that Imad is not in our future plans but the level of competition is high. I have tried to create a challenging environment where we have competition for places and there is pressure on all players to keep their place. This is good for Pakistan cricket and is how it should be, that the players in the Shaheens team or back-up players should be ready to take over when the opportunity arises.
We saw at the PSL that some of the boys were coming out of their comfort zone and bowling with the new ball, trying different things and this is exactly what we wanted to see. We want Imad to come out of his comfort zone and we want to have a backup for every player to step in when they are required.
PakPassion.net: To be picked after playing just 1 First-class match and 1 List-A match is a rare occurrence. What do you see that is special in Abdullah Shafique?
Mohammad Wasim: Abdullah was very impressive when we saw him in the Under-19s. He was also part of the Pakistan Super League and we were impressed by the way he played red-ball 3-day cricket at the domestic level and then the way he played in First-class cricket when he got a chance. Technically he is very sound, and he has a lot of potential and wherever he has played he has impressed everyone.
Technically he is also very solid which is important given the fact that we are lacking in good opening batsmen. Even in First-class cricket there aren’t any stand-out openers as most of the top run-scorers in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy were middle-order batsmen. We’ve looked at this guy and we feel that he is someone who we can invest in and who has potential. I hope that over the course of time he will prove his worth.
PakPassion.net: You’ve received some criticism for picking young cricketers on the back of a couple of decent PSL performances. What do you say in response to this?
Mohammad Wasim: I think people are forgetting that there are two tours, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Everybody is thinking that the squad is just for South Africa and are overlooking the Zimbabwe leg of the tour where we have matches also. We want to try out these new boys like Arshad Iqbal who has a bit of experience as he has been around for the last couple of seasons and has been bowling well not just in the PSL but also in domestic cricket.
Mohammad Wasim Jr has been picked early but I want to reiterate the point about fast-tracking players where we are lacking options. Wasim comes into the all-rounder category because he can bowl his full 4 overs. We had other options like Amad Butt and Aamer Yamin but can they be considered as reliable bowlers, because what we are seeing is that they are only okay bowling a couple of overs. Yamin is good with the new ball but he struggles with the older ball. Amad Butt cannot be relied upon to bowl 4 overs and that is where both Yamin and Amad need to improve and this is where the coaches will come in and work with both of them.
Wasim comes in not just as a fast-bowler, but as an all-rounder. He can give you 4 reliable overs and he can bat. At the moment we only have Faheem Ashraf as a pace-bowling all-rounder so we need a back-up for him and Wasim gives us that option. There are quite a few games on the upcoming tour and if Faheem needs a break Wasim will be there.
Twenty20 cricket is about energy and fresh legs and whilst I agree that some players have been brought in early in their careers, I am trying to build a pool of players and want to try out these youngsters for a couple of series and then trim down our options before selecting the Twenty20 World Cup squad. We are experimenting a bit and that is to increase our pool of players and to increase our options.
PakPassion.net: What’s Kamran Ghulam done wrong to be treated the way he has been by the selectors?
Mohammad Wasim: I am looking at all these middle-order batsmen based upon their performances and I always give priority to those who have been consistent over the years. Kamran’s competitor is Saud Shakeel. Both bat at number 3 or 4 in the batting-order and I had to pick only one of these two. Saud comes in ahead of Kamran because he has been performing consistently for a number of years. Kamran had a good season but when I compare their numbers Saud comes out on top.
Kamran was close to selection, but he misses out because we felt we needed another fast bowler on the tour and we chose Shahnawaz Dhani. These are the two reasons why Kamran Ghulam missed out. Also, Agha Salman is another who has been performing in the last couple of years and deserved to be selected. Kamran is in our plans but the boys who have been performing over the years will get preference.
PakPassion.net: You speak about performing consistently over a period of time. Hasn’t Usman Salahuddin been doing that, yet once again his name is nowhere to be seen?
Mohammad Wasim: Usman had a good second half of the domestic season. I had a chat with him and spoke to him about the areas that he needs to work on. I’m looking at the type of player we have for each role. We have Agha Salman who is a specialist at number 5 or 6 and if I put someone else in that spot that wouldn’t be fair. Usman needs to improve a few things, firstly his strike-rate and that is relevant even in 4-day cricket. Usman has played for Pakistan and I would like him to come into the squad when he will be considered to play in the starting XI rather than just as a squad player. We are keeping an eye on him but there are a couple of things that he needs to improve and once he does that, we will see him around in Pakistan colours.
PakPassion.net: What lessons have been learnt from the selection of Naseem Shah?
Mohammad Wasim: He has had injury problems and that has affected his confidence and his form. The boy has a lot of talent and it takes time to recover from injuries. He has from time to time shown what he is capable of, but the most important thing is for him to get fully fit and firing again. He’s been invited to the camp for the South Africa and Zimbabwe tour so it’s important that he can be around the squad and work with Waqar Younis and the other coaches.
What we all need to look at is why he is getting injured regularly as only then can we involve him in our plans. At the moment we want him to get fit as it wouldn’t have been fair on him to be recalled straight after injury. I would like him to play more First-Class cricket as perhaps he was lacking the benefit of having played much 4-day cricket in the past when he was selected. This way he can improve his fitness and form. But I am sure he will make a strong comeback.
PakPassion.net: There were reports that Babar Azam was unhappy with the squad that was selected for the tour of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Can you give your side of the story regarding this issue?
Mohammad Wasim: It wasn’t how it was reported. We followed the procedures and we had meetings. I was in Lahore for 3 days and I had several, long meetings with Babar and Misbah and we came up with the squad. Obviously, there are discussions and debates but there were no disagreements over 10 or 11 players as I read. Everything is fine between us.
PakPassion.net: Who has the final say on the selection of the squad, you, the Captain or the Head Coach?
Mohammad Wasim: Team selection is a result of brain storming and teamwork between the selectors and other stakeholders and Alhamdulillah 99.99% of the time we are on the same page but there can be some discussions and healthy debates like there should be and in that case I have to make a final call or decision considering various factors, combinations and short to long-term deals. For example, we spoke about the Twenty20 openers and the captain wanted Fakhar Zaman and Sharjeel Khan and that’s who we gave him. We will always try to compromise with the captain and coach.
PakPassion.net: It seems that everybody in Pakistan is a Chief Selector, former players, media, fans. Does that make your job even harder than you thought it would be?
Mohammad Wasim: I respect everyone’s opinions and points of view. The former players have a lot of experience so there is nothing wrong with them giving their point of view. As cricket is a passion therefore every aspect of cricket is discussed amongst the general public and media, but my job is not to please others or just give in to what people want. Everyone has their opinions on who should be in the squad, but my job is to pick the best possible players that are available to play for Pakistan and that’s what I am focussing on. I listen to everyone but it’s not necessary that I have to consider their opinions.
PakPassion.net: Has Babar Azam got too much on his plate by being skipper in all three formats?
Mohammad Wasim: Babar is learning. He’s a quick learner and obviously it’s early days regarding his captaincy. But the way things are going, the most important aspect is that he is a performer himself and that makes his job easier. If he performs in all formats, then that makes things easier for him as a skipper of the side to motivate or lift the team. He’s learning every day and everyone around him is helping him. So far what we have seen from him has been encouraging and I feel that with time he will get better and better as a skipper and serve Pakistan well InshAllah.
PakPassion.net: Your critics are also saying that you are trying to please too many people and are making too many changes. Is that unfair criticism?
Mohammad Wasim: If I wanted to please everyone then I wouldn’t be getting any criticism, would I? I am not trying to make everyone happy, but I am trying to do the job to the best of my ability. Selection is such a thing that you can never satisfy everyone. Even if you picked 1000 players, people will still say that you should have picked this player or that player. Here I would like to highlight that we have set specific goals and have tried to make the selection process methodical rather than based on likes and dislikes and InshAllah you will find us consistent in that process.
I am not really bothered about the criticism that comes with the job. It’s a tough job and I am trying to keep it simple. When it came to the selection of the Twenty20 squad, I have made changes and given a chance to players, but we have to bear in mind that the Twenty20 World Cup is not too far away. So, we need to do the experimenting now and not nearer the time of the tournament. What is disappointing to hear is that whilst I have only been Chief Selector for two series and we have won both of them, some people are reacting as if it has been a disaster and I have done everything wrong.