Too many allrounders
Over the last year, it had become the norm for pundits and journalists alike to routinely express shock, dismay, horror and disgust at Pakistan selections. Whether it was a culling of the old or the plucking of an unknown, the hallmark of Aamer Sohail's regime was making selection, even in a country with Pakistan's shambolic selectorial past, a particularly volatile phenomenon.
With Wasim Bari as chief selector, things are much more predictable and, importantly, stable. The announcement of a 16-man squad for the first two matches of the ODI series against the Indians - Bari's first squad selection - contains few surprises, but retains a sense of continuity, the mantra of both Inzamam-ul-Haq, the captain, and Javed Miandad, the coach. Much of the squad that played in New Zealand remains.
As was widely expected, Saqlain Mushtaq and Shahid Afridi have earned recalls to the squad after playing little and no international cricket respectively over the last year. Younis Khan, touted by some as a potential future captain for much of last year, also finds his way back in. Rao Iftikhar, a right-arm medium pacer, and Rana Naveed-ul-Hasan, an allrounder, are rewarded, not only for outstanding domestic seasons, but for heroic performances on opposing sides in the Patron's Trophy Final in January. Barring an injury scare, it is unlikely that either will be involved in the first two games, given the number of allrounders in the squad and the relative stability of the pace attack.
Speaking to Wisden Cricinfo, Bari pronounced himself happy with the squad. "It is a balanced squad, the best we could have picked, and so far we have received good feedback from people about it." While there isn't much doubt, as many agree, that the squad represents more or less the best possible selection, the combination of allrounders and batsmen, with the inclusion of Saqlain and Afridi, in particular, may upset the balance of a playing XI.
Including Afridi, there are as many as five allrounders in the squad, if we count Moin Khan as one, and only six frontline batsmen. It is safe to assume that the following men pick themselves: Imran Farhat, Yasir Hameed, Yousuf Youhana, Inzamam, Moin, Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed. There are then two strategies that Pakistan can adopt to complete the playing XI.
The batting option
They could prop up a traditionally suspect batting order against a weak bowling attack by including Younis Khan or Misbah-ul-Haq, at the expense of a sixth bowler, against arguably the strongest batting line-up in the world. The choice of the fourth bowler in this scenario is tough - Shoaib Malik provides batting depth and Saqlain provides bowling penetration. This also leaves Razzaq with ten overs, which, given his form of late, is risky.
The Afridi-Saqlain option
Pakistan could use Afridi as a specialist, albeit fragile, late-order batsman and sixth bowler, and go in with only four frontline batsmen. Either Saqlain or Malik would be the fourth bowler and Afridi and Razzaq would share ten overs. After the recent tour of New Zealand, it was argued that more specialist, wicket-taking bowlers were needed to support Sami and Shoaib, instead of the procession of allrounders that was served up. Although there will be at least three frontline bowlers this time, against India, four may be necessary. In which case, Saqlain would play instead of Malik.
Bari, when asked whether there were too many allrounders and not enough specialist batsmen, said, "in one-day internationals, it is always good to have them because they contribute everywhere". Afridi's fielding abilities, in addition to his bowling, make him likely to play.
Bari also revealed that Saqlain will probably only play in place of one of the three fast bowlers, and not alongside them. Saqlain, called up for his experience and record against the Indians, "will provide excellent backup if we decide to play a fast bowler short". Recent media reports suggest that Saqlain's attitude at the training camp has annoyed officials, and that renders it further unlikely that he will be an automatic selection.
And if, as Bari said, Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq find it difficult to get into the team, then it seems likely that the final XI will contain three allrounders (Razzaq, Malik and Afridi) bowling 20 overs between them. Given the strength of the Indian batting, this could be a dangerous strategy.
Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist in Karachi.