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August 24, 2010
Mohammad Yousuf's rehabilitation back into the Pakistan fold is complete as the batsman was recalled to a 16-man squad to face England in a five-ODI series and two Twenty20 internationals in September. There was no recall, however, for Yousuf's long time middle-order ally, Younis Khan, the selection committee and captain claiming he has not been "cleared" by the PCB chairman Ijaz Butt.
In another significant move, Shoaib Malik, a limited-overs fixture in Pakistan sides for a number of years, has been dropped. Mohsin Khan, the chairman of selectors, was economical with his words when asked about the significance of Malik's dropping. "Lack of form, lack of performance," he told Cricinfo.
Yousuf was retired from all cricket until recently in protest at an indefinite ban from selection the board had placed on him. After being cleared by the PCB, though, he answered an SOS to bolster an inexperienced and flimsy middle order in the England Test series and played a vital role in Pakistan's third Test win at The Oval. Yousuf had led Pakistan in four ODIs in Australia at the turn of the year but missed their last ODI assignment, the Asia Cup in June, because of the punishment.
Younis had also played in the ODIs in Australia, but with limited success. In the aftermath of the tour, he was also handed the same punishment as Yousuf but has not been able to reach a resolution with the board. A number of other players who were banned have reached a compromise with Butt and had their punishments overturned. "I asked the chairman PCB about the situation with Younis twice," captain Shahid Afridi said. "But the clearance wasn't given by the PCB. I did what I had to do."
The other major news is the axing of Malik, who also had a ban imposed and lifted in quick time after the Australia tour. Malik was in poor form during the ongoing Test series in England and was dropped from the side for the third Test. Over the last 12 months Malik averaged 30 with the bat in 11 ODIs, with only one fifty-plus score: a Champions Trophy hundred against India. Take that out and he averaged 20
The squad is a significant one as the countdown begins to the 2011 World Cup, due to start in February. Afridi said he was looking to build a pool of 20-25 players between now and then; Pakistan are scheduled to take on England, South Africa, New Zealand and possibly Zimbabwe in ODIs in that time.
In that light, two notable performers from the Tests against England have been called up. Azhar Ali, who played two innings of immense significance amid a sequence of low scores, had his first limited-overs call up. Wahab Riaz, who was a part of the ODI squad two years ago, also returned following an impressive Test debut at The Oval.
"In a 50-over game, there is still a lot of batting to be done," Mohsin said. "We've had problems batting the fulll quota of overs in the past so we felt the need for batsmen in this squad who can play long innings. Yousuf is one, and that is why he is in the side, and Azhar we feel is another."
Three others picks are significant. Fawad Alam, whose exclusion from the Asia Cup and the England Tests , was criticised, returned to beef up a lower middle-order in which he impressed in Australia. Mohammad Hafeez, in and out of the side, over the last two years came back in place of Imran Farhat, presumably as an opening option. And Shoaib Akhtar continued his remarkable return to the international scene, retaining his place from the Asia Cup and the Twenty20 internationals against Australia to complete a strong pace attack that includes Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir and a fit-again Umar Gul, alongisde Riaz.
Squad: Shahid Afridi (capt), Salman Butt, Shahzaib Hasan, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Yousuf, Azhar Ali, Umar Akmal, Kamran Akmal, Fawad Alam, Abdul Razzaq, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Amir, Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal, Shoaib Akhtar, Wahab Riaz.
Reserves: Sarfraz Ahmed, Asad Shafiq, Mohammad Irfan, Abdur Rehman.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge
Plays of the day from the tri-series match between Zimbabwe and South Africa
Would he have fared better than the incumbent middle-order batsmen, Root and Ballance?