Barring a significant setback in the form of losing Naseem Shah to injury, Pakistan’s squad for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 was largely on the expected lines.
Naseem’s unavailability is a big loss for the Men in Green. The pacer injured himself during his team’s Super Four encounter against India in the Asia Cup, and is set to miss plenty of action in the upcoming months. He has been replaced by Hasan Ali.
The batters in the side include skipper Babar Azam, Fakhar Zaman, Imam-ul-Haq, Mohammed Rizwan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Mohammed Haris, Salman Agha and Saud Shakeel.
Shadab Khan and Mohammed Nawaz are the all-round spinners. Usama Mir is another spin option. The pace attack comprises Shaheen Shah Afridi, Haris Rauf, Hasan and Mohammed Waseem.
We take a look at the key takeaways from the squad that was announced on September 22, 2023.
Emphasis on continuity
Despite the poor run of certain players in the recently concluded Asia Cup, Pakistan selectors have steered away from making any radical changes. Shadab (six wickets at 40.83 in the Asia Cup) and Nawaz (one wicket at 94 in the Asia Cup) remain Pakistan’s preferred spin options.
Pakistan chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq backed the duo while revealing the World Cup squad before the press,
“Shadab and Nawaz have played ODIs with us over the last two years. It is true that they did not perform well [in the Asia Cup]. But we have full confidence in them. They’ve played with us for a long time, and have performed well.”
Mystery spinner Abrar Ahmed who could’ve challenged the duo for a place is a stand-by. Similarly, opener Fakhar Zaman retains his place despite averaging 16.25 with the bat in the Asia Cup.
Inzamam hoped that the team would perform better in the World Cup.
“We hope that they’ll give better performances. We suffered from two bad games, otherwise our team was ranked No. 1 (In the ICC Men’s ODI Team Rankings).”
Fast bowling selections made in the face of injury
Besides Naseem, other Pakistan pacers have injury concerns as well, including Mohammed Hasnain and Ihsanullah. This has brought down the available options before the Pakistan management.
Inzamam discussed this issue at the press conference.
“There are a number of injury issues among fast bowlers," he said. "Like there was Hasnain, he’s had an injury and has been operated by doctors. Ihsanullah just had an elbow operation. Our options in fast bowling are depleted.”
These constraints have played a role in the selection of Hasan Ali, who last featured for the Pakistan ODI side in June 2022.
Backing existing resources to deal with middle-over problems
In both their Asia Cup encounters against India, Pakistan struggled with the ball in the middle overs. During the group stage, Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya etched a stand of 138 runs for the fifth wicket in the middle overs. In the Super Four game, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul partnered to add 233 unbeaten runs for the third wicket.
Inzamam accepted that the side needed their bowling to fire in such situations.
“There’s no doubt that we’re having troubles in the middle overs. We need to play those bowlers who can take wickets for us.”
Still, Pakistan have by and large backed the bowling group that featured in the Asia Cup and has played for them in recent months. While unconventional options like Abrar Ahmed and Zaman Khan are present among the standbys, Pakistan have backed their regulars to deal with the middle-overs issue.
Spin-bowling all-rounders preferred
While Pakistan are carrying Shadab and Nawaz as the main all-rounders in the setup, they also have part-time options who can turn the arm over should the need arise. Iftikhar has 12 ODI wickets, while Salman has four.
This means that there is no place for a fast-bowling all-rounder like Faheem Ashraf. In his stead, Pakistan have gone with four proper pace bowlers for their campaign.
Pakistan will play two warm-up games, against New Zealand and Australia respectively, in the lead-up to the Cricket World Cup. They begin their tournament journey against the Netherlands on 6 October in Hyderabad.