March 31, 2000

PCB names West Indies-bound squad with a few surprises

Azam Maqbool Sheikh

LAHORE: Pakistan Cricket Board, Wednesday, announced a 17-member squad for the tour of West Indies starting early next month. The two-month tour contains a triangular series also involving the hosts and Zimbabwe followed by a three-Test series against the West Indies. The team, surprisingly contains as many as four openers, four middle-order batsmen, two wicketkeepers, five fast bowlers and two spinners.

While the pace and spin departments look quite strong, it is the batting line which looks likely to suffer again during the tour. There was little the selectors' had to do as most of the players were automatic choices. If the team was announced on the basis of merit and performances of the recent past then there are two or three spots where merit was denied. The inclusion of Naved Ashraf and Mohammad Akram has once again surprised the lovers of the game. Naved, a youngster from Rawalpindi, has not done enough at the domestic or international level to be a deserving candidate while Mohammad Akram, despite getting numerous chances, has failed to deliver the goods at the top level. A young pacer could have been given a chance in his place to prove his worth and there is no dearth of pace talent in the country.

Left-arm pacer Zahid Saeed, who was declared best bowler of the U-19 World Cup with 15 wickets at an amazing average of 7.60, was a real potential candidate. The other thing which goes in that youngster's favour is that he bowls with nagging line and length which is an essential part of the one-day games.

The selectors continued their step-motherly treatment towards Ijaz Ahmed. It's really mind-boggling on which criteria the powerful right-hander has been dropped yet again. If the team has been selected on the basis of performance then Ijaz's name comes on top of the list. True that his performance was patchy during the last year or so but despite the occasional loss of form he managed to score over 400 runs in the last five Tests. At least he could have been included in place of wicketkeeper Atiq-uz-Zaman whose inclusion seems to be meaningless for the triangular series which will be completed within a couple of weeks.

But credit must be given when it's due. The selectors must be admired as they habe made a couple of right decisions by including leggie Mushtaq Ahmed and stylish right-hander Mohammad Wasim. While Mushtaq was being wrongly ignored for the last couple of years, Wasim got an unexpected axe after the tour of Australia where his performance was not all that bad. Mohammad Wasim, along with Yousuf Youhana, is the most compact batsman Pakistan has produced during the last five years or so and deserves to be in the team on more regular basis. His inclusion will also stabilise the batting line-up.

Despite the said one or two selectorial errors, the present Pakistan team is a capable outfit and can win their first-ever series on Caribbean soil. The other thing which will be in Pakistan's favour is the presence of coach Javed Miandad who has vast experience of West Indian conditions and under whom the team returned victorious from the 1998-99 triangular in India and won the Asian Test Championship.

Team: Moin Khan (capt), Inzamam-ul-Haq (vice-capt), Imran Nazir, Wajahatullah Wasti, Naved Ashraf, Shahid Afridi, Younis Khan, Yousuf Youhana, Mohammad Wasim, Abdur Razzaq, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Arshad Khan, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Akram, Mushtaq Ahmed, Atiq-uz-Zaman.