August 13, 2000

Waqar to lead 15-man side in Singapore

Karachi, Aug 12: Country's premier fast bowler Waqar Younis will lead a strong 15-man Pakistan cricket team for the Singapore triangular series to be played between Aug 20 and 28. South Africa and New Zealand are the other sides.

Azhar Mahmood was named Waqar's deputy.Waqar Younis, who last month became the first bowler in the history of the game to be banned and fined for ball tampering, last captained Pakistan in the first Test against Zimbabwe in 1993. Pakistan won that match. He is also the second bowler after Wasim Akram to claim 300 or more wickets in both categories of the game.

PCB chairman Lt Gen Tauqir Zia, while naming the captain and vicecaptain, admitted there was a difference of opinion. He said: "It was a difficult choice. I was told to use my veto power which I didn't because it is a matter of just one tournament."

According to sources, the selectors were backing Waqar Younis while the advisory panel, including the chairman, were in support of Azhar Mahmood. But being a junior in the presence of stalwarts like Ijaz Ahmad, Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis he could not enough support.

Earlier, the chairman of selectors Wasim Bari announced the squad at a stormy press conference which at times looked going out of control.

Bari faced a barrage of questions on Ijaz Ahmad, a last-minute addition to the training camp on the instructions of the PCB chief, and exclusion of Rashid Latif. Just to recall, the selectors had ignored Ijaz from the provisional 20-man squad two days after he had joined the camp. But they were forced to take a U-turn after a top PCB official stepped in and asserted his authority. Rashid was not even considered fit to merit inclusion in the long list of camp trainees.

Ironically, Bari failed to convince mediamen and gave explanations that contradicted his earlier version. While he claimed Ijaz was selected because experience was required in the batting department, on Rashid Latif he could not offer any plausible explanation.Bari dismissed feelings in certain quarters that the present set-up was biased against Rashid Latif. "We called him for the Peshawar Test (against Sri Lanka). But his family members told us (the selectors) that he had left for Bangladesh. Naturally, we had to play another wicket-keeper which in that case was Atiq-uz-Zaman."

The former Test wicket-keeper also argued that Ijaz had been a regular member of the team until March this year while Rashid's last appearance was almost two years ago. However, when the chief selector was told that Kabir Khan also last played against Australia two years ago and now has been selected for the Singapore tour, he said: "Kabir has done extremely well on the domestic circuit. Besides, in the absence of Wasim Akram, we thought a left-armer would give more variety to the bowling.

While Bari was stressing the experience of Ijaz, it was pointed out to him that if that was the case, why he overlooked him from the list of probables initially.

When he was pressed further on Ijaz and Rashid, Bari said: "I have given cricketing explanations (which made little or no sense). You people may have own opinions."

Ijaz made a triumphant entry into the squad after being ignored for the four-month tour by hitting 97 and 35 in the two practice matches. Interestingly, it was the same selectorial panel that had left him out of gruelling tours of Sharjah, West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In the camp, Ijaz improved his fitness level and stroked the ball as forcefully as he used to before being dropped after the triangular series in Australia where Pakistan lost six out of 10 one-day matches.

The selectors, overall, named a very well balanced team. The good thing they did was to include Shahid Afridi and Mushtaq Ahmad who were borderline cases. Shahid was picked to exploit the short square boundaries while Mushtaq was included to take advantage of the opponents vulnerability against quality spinners.

The selectors also named Shafiq Ahmad of WAPDA who would tour as 15th player on board's expenses. He would not be part of the team and will not play any match. "He is being sent just to earn some international exposure," Bari said.

Team: Waqar Younis (captain), Azhar Mahmood (vice-captain), Saeed Anwar, Imran Nazir, Shahid Afridi, Ijaz Ahmad, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Hasan Raza, Atiq-uz-Zaman (wicketkeeper), Kabir Khan, Abdul Razzaq, Mushtaq Ahmad and Arshad Khan.