Looking beyond the probables
Imran Nazir: though not part of the probables list, has been in scintillating form in the domestic competetion
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Although the list of 22 Pakistan probables for the upcoming India-Pakistan series has already been announced, Wasim Bari, chief selector, is striving to remind everyone that this is not necessarily the final pool from which a team will be chosen.
And while Waqar Younis seems to have accepted that he may not get recalled, this fluid policy means that the door is still open for two past openers, Imran Nazir and Shahid Afridi. The former has been in blistering form in the ongoing Quaid-e-Azam trophy, scoring a scintillating 122 off only 112 deliveries recently. This followed previous knocks of 83 (off 63 balls) and a memorable 123, bludgeoned off 69 balls.
Afridi, meanwhile, has come back to Pakistan to play domestically, giving up a contract with a South African side, and stake a claim for the national team by turning out for Karachi. Bari was at the National Stadium in the port city to watch Afridi in action last weekend, and although he saw him play one innings, revealed that he has him very much in mind. Afridi came back to Pakistan with glowing recommendations from South Africa about his improvement and maturity as a player, particularly in his shot selection, and a successful record against India will not do his chances any harm.
Of Nazir, Bari said, "Imran is in very good form at the moment and he has some experience for Pakistan as well, so he is obviously being looked at."
Yasir Hameed, Imran Farhat and Taufeeq Umar have been in scratchy form domestically, and although their places are assured, the resurgence of Nazir and Afridi, and the spectacular nature of it, will provide the Pakistan think-tank with, for once, a pleasant selectorial headache. The good form of those in the list, but on the fringes of the team itself, such as all-rounder Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan and Asim Kamal, mean that the final squad for the first test may well hold a few surprises.
The chief selector has been busy looking at various players not originally announced in the list, and it appears that spots are available for those who perform well in the Quaid trophy.
The addition of left-arm pace bowlers, Zahid Saeed and Mohammad Khalil, to the training camp offers a case in point. Although it was widely reported here that both were drafted in primarily to offer Pakistani batsmen an opportunity to get used to playing against left-arm bowlers - given the nature of the Indian pace attack - and not as an official part of the camp, Bari said that both were under consideration.
"Mohammad Khalil in particular has been in very good form and has been on the fringes of the national team for a while now. We have been watching him and it will be useful to see him in the camp against the senior boys to get an idea of how he copes." Zahid Saeed, prolific thus far this season and also declared the best bowler at the U-19 World Cup in 1999-00, will also find the experience useful. Whether or not either make the national squad remains to be seen, particularly given the strength of the Pakistan attack, but the experience of the camp and the opportunity to impress the selectors, coach and captain is one both should maximise.
A great believer in constant communication with players and officials, Bari has been talking to many of the probables on a regular basis. "The mood amongst the players is upbeat right now. They are really looking forward to the series and are pretty confident they can do well in what will be a very tough and extremely important series."
The list of 22 for the training camp (due to begin on February 24), as Bari said at the time, was a good indicator of the selectorial vision of the Pakistan think-tank. With this year's Quaid Trophy, for once attracting top players however, the door is still clearly ajar for a couple of players, new and old, to gatecrash their way into the series of a lifetime.