Pakistan pick Sohail Khan for World Cup
Pakistan have picked 30-year old fast bowler Sohail Khan in their 15-man squad for the 2015 World Cup. Sohail had played the last of his five ODIs in Zimbabwe in 2011, but took ten wickets in two of his most recent List A games, and was the highest wicket-taker in this season's Quaid-e-Azam Gold League - 64 at an average of 22.
Apart from Sohail, the other World Cup inclusions not part of the squad for the series against New Zealand in December 2014 - Pakistan's previous ODI assignment - are batsman Sohaib Maqsood, and fast bowlers Junaid Khan and Ehsan Adil. All three missed that series because of injuries but have now recovered.
The players who were part of the New Zealand series but excluded from the World Cup squad are: Anwar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Nasir Jamshed, Sohail Tanvir and Zulfiqar Babar. Umar Gul and Bilawal Bhatti had been withdrawn from the New Zealand series because of injury and were also not included in the World Cup squad.
There had been plenty of speculation over the last week regarding the selection of Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal, but the selectors decided to stick with younger prospects, with Haris Sohail being included for a spot in the middle order.
"Shoaib Malik was being considered for the middle-order slot as we lost the bowling utility of Saeed Ajmal and Hafeez," chief selector Moin Khan said. "But eventually, we preferred Haris Sohail as his recent performances and the added advantage of him being a left-hander put him ahead."
The 15-man squad includes two specialist openers, five fast bowlers, and three allrounders in Shahid Afridi, Wahab Riaz and Haris.
"Obviously Sohail's inclusion is a surprise for all of you but this is a proof that we selectors do prefer the domestic performances. He had a good one-day tournament and this is the reward for all his hard work and performances.
"Nasir Jamshed was discussed for the opening slot but we felt recent performances were important and hence couldn't justify his selection. Fawad Alam also, unfortunately, could not make it into our team combination, but he is indeed is a fighter."
When asked why Pakistan had gone with just two specialist openers, Moin said: "We have gambled having two openers but we have Sarfraz Ahmed as a back-up force. The nature of his game, his positivity, and the sort of shots he plays make him a solid prospect to bat higher if needed. We are very much clear in in our mind that we have the best two openers, with Sarfraz as a third option."
As many as six players named in the party had been suffering from various injuries going into the tournament, but Moin confirmed that there were no serious injury concerns at the moment.
"The 15 men are fully fit following the medical evidence we have after detailed fitness tests," he said. "Obviously, the standard is not very high, but with the recently developed culture, every player is improving.
"I must say that the fitness levels of our players is ready to match those of players in any other part of the cricket world. No one can give assurance of a result, but we are confident that this team can do better in the World Cup."
Moin also gave his vote of confidence to the captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who had suffered a hamstring injury during the home series against New Zealand last month, but recovered after extensive rehabilitation.
"He is fit and has informed the selectors that he has recovered," Moin said. "His call is taken with respect as he is the captain and we have to respect his observation. He has started running, batting and sprinting between the wicket, but if there is any deficiency, he still has plenty of time to cover up and I am sure in due course he will be fine."
Pakistan are without a specialist offspinner, though the selectors have named a legspinner in Yasir Shah, along with Afridi. Moin defended the selection as a pure cricketing decision.
"We had also carried two legspinners [Mushtaq Ahmed and Iqbal Sikander] in the 1992 World Cup, so that isn't something exceptional," Moin said.
"With legspinners, the probability of taking field wickets increases. We have as many as 12 matches including the World Cup games, and given the age factor of Afridi, naturally we have to keep a back-up as well. Yasir, we believe, is a wicket-taking bowler and a good prospect."
Squad Misbah-ul-Haq(captain), Ahmed Shehzad, Mohammad Hafeez, Sarfraz Ahmed, Younis Khan, Haris Sohail, Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Shahid Afridi, Yasir Shah, Mohammad Irfan, Junaid Khan, Ehsan Adil, Sohail Khan, Wahab Riaz
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson