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Pakistan v England 2022/23

Pakistan’s haphazard selection policy is holding them back

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

“Pakistan cricket at its best, one minute down, next minute up.”

That famous Nasser Hussain line during the 2017 Champions Trophy final perfectly encapsulates the neutral’s outlook on Pakistani cricket. Even success isn’t straightforward. Qualification for this year’s T20 World Cup final was achieved despite group stage defeats to India and Zimbabwe. That 2017 Champions Trophy triumph came four games after a mauling at the hands of India and even their 1992 World Cup win was attained after a just a solitary victory from their first five games.

More often than not they inject interest to global tournaments and in the Test game, they’re generally competitive enough to challenge every side home and away (with the exception of Australia Down Under) but also flawed enough to be vulnerable at home. On a purely entertainment level, they are surely the most important nation in the cricketing ecosystem.

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While that is all well and good it must be eternally frustrating for Pakistan themselves. And in part, they have themselves to blame – they are so often hamstrung by their own haphazard selection policy that holds back the team.

The ongoing series against England is illustrative of this. It would be a stretch to say that Pakistan have at any point in the series fielded their strongest available XI. Pakistan have handed debuts to six players and made seven changes across the three Tests, only some of them enforced due to injury.

They started the series with a recklessly inexperienced bowling attack, one that contained as many Test wickets between them as Joe Root had at the time (47). Debuts were handed to Mohammad Ali, Zahid Mahmood and Haris Rauf with 19-year-old Naseem Shah charged with the role of attack leader.

Mahmood was preferred over the other uncapped leg-spinner in the squad, his Sindh teammate Abrar Ahmed, despite the stark contrast in their recent domestic record in Ahmed’s favour. Ahmed was often selected as Sindh’s sole spinner ahead of Mahmood and finished the Quaid-e-Azam trophy campaign as the competition’s leading wicket-taker. Ahmed ended the tournament with 43 wickets at 21.95 while Mahmood took 13 wickets at 45.76 yet it was Mahmood who found himself in the XI. Both would experience record-breaking debuts in the series but for very different reasons.

Pakistan coach Saqlain Mushtaq explained the decision to opt for Mahmood by stating that he didn’t want to “break the queue” and fast-track a player ahead of someone who has previously been in squads without getting an opportunity to play.

Loyalty in selection often brings reward – England have been extremely consistent in their selection under Brendon McCullum and Ben Stokes – but for Pakistan, it is a quality that is so inconsistently implemented.

Take the case of Mohammad Abbas. Four years ago Abbas was as high as third in the ICC Test bowling rankings but he continues to find himself outside of the Pakistan squad despite rececntly enjoying excellent domestic seasons in both England and Pakistan. A handful of quiet Tests that were by no means disastrous have seen him excommunicated from the set-up. It’s a similar story for Hassan Ali who, like Abbas, averages less than 25 with the ball in Test cricket. Pakistan opted to select three uncapped seamers ahead of them going into the series. In Multan, Mohammad Ali was the sole front-line seamer in the XI despite enduring a chastening debut at Rawalpindi and was subsequently targeted by England’s belligerent top order.

Nauman Ali is another who was harshly jettisoned before the series opener. Nauman has performed serviceably in home conditions that have rarely offered assistance for spinners and yet was dropped after one disappointing Test against Sri Lanka in July. Yasir Shah is another with an impressive Test record and a decent record in home Tests who was overlooked. There were players with international pedigree who were available and just not selected and it has hurt Pakistan.

All-rounders Mohammad Nawaz and Faheem Ashraf both offer the side much-needed balance when picked but neither have been given prolonged backing from the selectors. Ashraf in particular rarely lets the side down when selected. Elsewhere in the all-rounder department, the style of cricket that England are so successfully employing makes you wonder how effective Shadab Khan could be in the Test arena if backed.

This has been a historic series that will rightly be remembered for decades to come but if there’s one regret to be had it’s that Pakistan haven’t given themselves the best opportunity to succeed. Regardless of the result in Karachi, Pakistan will finish the series sixth in the ICC Test rankings some way off the top five which given the talent they have at their disposal feels like a misuse of resources.

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