Fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz were on Monday, 20 May, named in Pakistan's squad for the ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2019, as the PCB selectors named the final 15-man contingent for the marquee tournament.
Both Amir and Wahab had been omitted from the preliminary squad that had been named last month. The duo have come in place of fellow left-arm pacer Junaid Khan and all-rounder Faheem Ashraf.
In the other major change, middle-order batsman Asif Ali replaced Abid Ali. And leg-spinner Shadab Khan, who had suffered a viral infection and was pulled from the series against England, has recovered and retained his place in the final 15. That meant there was no place for Test regular Yasir Shah, who had replaced Shadab for the England games.
While Amir was left out of the preliminary squad for the World Cup, he was given a chance to prove his worth in the five-match ODI series against world No.1 England. However, he went down with chicken pox and took no part in the series, which Pakistan lost 4-0. Amir was due to have a medical examination done in London, and a PCB release has now confirmed that he has recovered from the illness.
Amir's form has been a major source of concern for Pakistan over the last couple of years. Since the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 final, Amir has sent down 101 overs across 14 innings and picked up just five wickets. His strike-rate of 121.2 in this time is almost thrice his career-strike-rate of 41.2.
Even so, Amir brings with him past success in England, as seen in the final of that Champions Trophy, where his 3-16 in six overs sent India on their way to a 180-run defeat. It is also hoped that the conditions in England, which aid Amir's natural strength of swinging the ball, could engineer a turnaround.
Amir's return was also aided by the lackluster show from Pakistan's bowlers against England. They conceded totals in excess of 300 in each of the four matches. Three of those were 350-plus, and in two of those instances, they failed to defend totals of 358 and 340.
Wahab, on the other hand, wasn't in the reckoning for the England series either. The left-armer has, in fact, not been anywhere near the Pakistan one-day outfit, having last turned out in a 50-over match for them in a group stage clash against India during the Champions Trophy.
Explaining the reasoning behind the selection of the Amir-Wahab duo, Inzamam-ul-Haq, the chief selector, said: “Junaid and Faheem had been originally preferred over a few other bowlers based on their recent performances and the investment we had made on them since 2017. They had the opportunity to cement their Word Cup spots, but they were well below-par in the series against England, even though they were up against the difficult challenge of bowling on placid and batsmen-friendly wickets.
If we have at our disposal two vastly experienced pacers in Amir and Wahab, then it will be foolish not to include them.
"After it became obvious that the bat is likely to dominate the ball in the World Cup, we revisited our strategy and reverted to the pace of Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz. Amir and Wahab give the fast bowling attack more experience to back and support the relatively inexperienced, but immensely talented, Shaheen Shah Afridi and Mohammad Hasnain.
“We believed that right now, utilising the World Cup experience and knowledge of Wahab was the correct choice. Wahab has been training and playing club cricket, and a player of his calibre will not face much problem in adapting and adjusting to the gruelling demands of the World Cup. If we have at our disposal two vastly experienced pacers in Amir and Wahab, then it will be foolish not to include them.”
As for Abid's exclusion, Inzamam put it down to the intense competition at the top of the order. Both Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq, Pakistan's first-choice openers, were in sizzling form during the England ODIs. While Fakhar amassed 200 runs in five games, averaging 40, Imam's 234 runs came at an average of 117 and contained a career-best 151. “It has not been an easy decision to leave out Abid, particularly after he got only one opportunity on the tour," Inzamam said. "But he was our third-choice opener. After both the first-choice openers struck early form, we preferred Asif Ali as he brings firepower to the team that can strengthen our chances in the tournament.
“If required, we have a fully fit Mohammad Hafeez who can be promoted in the batting order, while Haris Sohail can be the another option.”
Wahab is set to join the squad in Bristol on 22 May. Pakistan play a brace of warm-up matches, on 24 and 26 May, against Afghanistan and Bangladesh respectively, before they kick off their World Cup campaign against West Indies on 31 May.
Squad: Sarfaraz Ahmed (capt,wk), Asif Ali, Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Haris Sohail, Hasan Ali, Imad Wasim, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnanin, Shadab Khan, Shaheen Afridi, Shoaib Malik, Wahab Riaz
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