March 20, 2003

Eight from the World Cup squad sacked

LAHORE - As expected, the fresh set of national selectors along with Rashid Latif and Yousuf Youhana, the newly-appointed captain and vice-captain, have gone for a 16-member squad for the Sharjah Cup, so distinctly different from the one that only recently crashed out of the World Cup without a whimper.

Despite the outbreak of war in the region, the tournament, which also involves Sri Lanka and South Africa other than Pakistan, was still on, according to latest reports available to the PCB.

Though anticipated that some of the seniors would not be called for national duty, when chief selector Aamer Sohail announced the squad, eight out of the 15 that went to South Africa stood dropped. Though Abdul Razzaq and Saleem Elahi managed to survive, but only just and, as Sohail divulged, that too because of the intervention of skipper Latif.

Those who have hit the sack are: Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar and Azhar Mahmood. Some of these, though, have merely been rested, insisted Sohail.

They are likely to make a comeback once their hunger for the game is renewed after a spell away from the game, said Sohail. "I think there is a good three years of cricket left in Inzamam; he is an asset and should not be written off".

Desperate times, as the saying goes, require desperate measures. And, these certainly are desperate times for Pakistan cricket, but in naming this hugely green outfit, have the selectors gone for overkill?

Aamer insisted that they had not, and that it was not reckless changing and chopping just for the heck of it. "Our brief is well defined. The team needs to be rebuilt. Hence, we have given an opportunity to those who deserved to fill slots vacated by some of the seniors. The captain has been part of the process of selection, as he would always be from now on. His recommendations have been catered for, and he would be provided total support," said the chief selector about the first set of selections made by his five-member committee.

Rashid for his part insisted that the sacking was a bitter pill, which had to be swallowed because of the necessity to rebuild the national team. "Some of these boys replacing the likes of Akram and Younis are unknown figures. But maybe soon they too would be household names. They certainly have the potential to strike it big", said Rashid.

Sohail echoed similar sentiments when he said, that given a proper opportunity and guidance this young but talented side had the potential to deliver the goods.

Captaining Pakistan at this critical juncture was something that he had accepted as a challenge, said Rashid, adding that he had to shelve post-World Cup retirement plans because the team needed him. "That is why for the moment, I've extended my career for a year", said he, mentioning that he was physically fit at the moment, though still undecided whether he wanted to play Test cricket as well (he had already announced his retirement from the longer version of the game even before he embarked on the plane for the World Cup).

"I take it upon myself as a responsibility to groom a wicket-keeper for the future", said he, suggesting that he may either sit out some or induct himself only as a batsman in Tests. At one point, gesturing towards Youhana sitting on his right, Rashid said that maybe the former would be captaining the Pakistan team in not too distant a future.

Though masked with considerable degree of success, more than a hint of desperation was quite visible on the brows of the chief selector and captain. Patience was the buzz word with the duo, as a nervous-looking Youhana sat there in silence.

When asked whether they would revert back to the seniors after another setback or two - the fate of all previous attempts at rebuilding in recent years - Sohail said that people would have to be patient and allow this young brigade time to settle down in the international arena.

On the part of the selection committee, Aamer assured that there would be no backtracking. "We are looking ahead, towards tomorrow and not yesterday. The emphasis of this committee would be on continuity, and I assure you that we would not insult our own intelligence by selecting a player and then dropping him without a proper outing", said Sohail.

Quite unprompted, Sohail made an interesting comment. When talking about the virtues of this young outfit, he repeatedly stressed on Latif being the only captain in the side. This 'not-so-vague' hint gave away the fact that the previous squad had more than what could only be called jostling for power by various factions because it had a surfeit of former captains who wanted another turn at the saddle.

To reinforce the argument, Aamer quoted the Aussie example. "The Australians have been the most successful side of the 1990s, and they have had only one captain in their elevens".

The 16-member squad: Taufeeq Umar, Mohammad Hafeez, Naved Latif, Saleem Elahi, Yousuf Youhana, Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Faisal Iqbal, Rashid Latif, Danish Kaneria, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Zahid, Umar Gul, Naved-ul-Hasan, Abdul Razzaq.