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In the latest edition of his blog entry on PakPassion.net, Aamir Sohail discusses the upcoming limited over series between Pakistan and England with a special reference to the selection of Shoaib Malik

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There were no significant personnel changes from the Test squad noted upon the announcement of the Pakistani ODI squad to face England, with management no doubt hoping for the players to ride the wave of confidence gleaned from the Test wins into the upcoming ODI matches. The belief within the squad must currently be sky high but any international team which has experienced such success must banish the spectre of complacency – such is the competitive nature of sport that any team cannot afford to relax and take things for granted, and it will be the Pakistan team management’s role to guard against this attitude should it arise. 

Overall, there are no surprises in the Pakistani ODI squad. Hammad Azam replaces Abdul Razzaq and there was a degree of confusion over the selection of Shoaib Malik. My personal thoughts are that if an astute captain such as Misbah has decided he wants to push for the inclusion of a particular player, then it will be a carefully considered request. With the Pakistani batting struggling a little, Misbah has given himself the option of strengthening the batting whilst also offering yet another spin option - attaining the right balance in the team for the ODI series will be at the forefront of his thoughts. 

As a captain, there are points at which you have to make a tough call and consider the experience a player brings to the team, regardless of the player’s current form. If Malik is given the right opportunities, he may well score runs and perform well. Misbah-ul-Haq has made the decision and presently it’s a case of waiting and seeing if it is a successful one that works for him - bringing Shoaib Malik back could be an astute move by Misbah. 

There has also been a lot of discussion about the potential batting order of the Pakistani team, but I don’t have any issues with it. The argument can be made for more attacking players like Shoaib Malik or Umar Akmal being pushed up the order, but it’s the individual players who have to respond, regardless of the position they bat. Experienced players like Misbah and Younis Khan won’t be there forever and batsmen like Asad Shafiq need to step up and begin to replace these experienced players, and they in turn will coach future generations in the same manner. The time is now for the younger players to learn the art of taking on responsibility. 

I’m still not totally convinced by the policy of selecting Umar Akmal in the wicket-keeping position in the 50-over format, like he does in Twenty20s. However, when we actually analyse his performances, he hasn’t actually done badly at all behind the stumps. In the last game against Afghanistan, he kept well and looked comfortable against Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi, two bowlers with variations that not only challenge the batsman, but glovemen too. 

Umar Akmal appears to be happy behind the stumps and as long as he feels his batting is not going to be hampered by the additional responsibility, then overall I would say it’s fine to continue with this strategy. It also gives Pakistan an extra batsman and it’s a matter of needs must at the moment - Pakistan are struggling to find a wicketkeeper who does the kind of job that Matt Prior does for England, or Mahendra Singh Dhoni for India. In the past we had Rashid Latif, Moin Khan and Kamran Akmal who could put in decent performances with the bat, but at the moment we can’t find a wicket keeper who can bat well at number seven, so as long as Umar Akmal is happy to do it, I believe this strategy will and should be persisted with. 

Expensive opening spells by the fast bowlers was highligted as a concern by Misbah after the match against Afghanistan and currently, the logical choice of opening bowlers is Umar Gul and Wahab Riaz. However, Pakistan must also look at some point to select a couple of bowlers who can bowl with express pace. The spinners are excellent, Umar Gul has a lot of experience and if the attack is also given the injection of a couple of quick youngsters like Rahat Ali or Mohammad Talha, it will significantly increase the potency to the Pakistani bowling attack. 

It appears England will adopt the strategy of utilising Kevin Pietersen as an opener to provide a rapid start to the innings. If I was the Pakistani captain, I would be thinking about the strategies England will be employing and formulating ways of counteracting such plans and England’s struggles against spinners would be at the forefront of such discussions. The only logical strategy for England is to adopt a safety-first approach to the key Pakistani spinners whilst capitalising on any loose deliveries offered, and then take the attack to the quicks and Hafeez in an attempt to score heavily in the 25 or so overs bowled by these bowlers. 

Pakistan, like they have done in recent times, may utilise Mohammad Hafeez to open the bowling to counteract the threat of Pietersen, or perhaps they will initially open with the fast bowlers. It will be interesting to see whether the initial aim of the fast bowlers will be to attack Pietersen, or adopt a more defensive approach. 

I feel that Misbah will have to hold such discussions with the fast bowlers and consider this beforehand, but whatever the decision, Pakistan will have to be disciplined but also focus on the potential to pick up early wickets too. 

Although the World Cup in Australia is quite a while away, Pakistan should be considering their options with respect to the pace bowlers and introduce them sooner rather than later. The spin department will be fine and ideally, Pakistan should also seek to find a decent all-rounder who can bowl medium pace and pick up the odd wicket. Also, if a decent wicket keeper-batsman cannot be identified, an all-rounder can cover such a weakness by playing as a third bowler and an extra batsman. 

I think Hammad Azam still has to put in a lot of hard work before he can fulfill such a role – he has to improve as a bowler and is not as yet a dependable batsman. The Pakistani coaching staff will have to invest a great deal of time and effort to bring Hammad up to international quality. 

My view on the ODI series is that Pakistan shouldn’t have any problems beating England, whose morale in the camp must be very low.

 

 

 

 

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