ICC World Cup 2011 January 18, 2011

A fresh, balanced squad with no captain

Despite all the controversies of the past year, Pakistan have put together a balanced squad for the World Cup, but the fact that they haven't finalised on a captain is cause for concern
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A sympathetic glance over Pakistan's World Cup squad would conclude that chief selector Mohsin Khan and his men have done well to find 15 players to send first to Sri Lanka and then possibly further.

Such has been the last year; a period treated by the rest of the world as a run-in to the game's showpiece event, a time to fine-tune selections, strategies and ideas, but one in which Pakistan has changed the very face of their first XI.

Four first-choice players were banned by the board in March 2010, of whom the careers of three - Mohammad Yousuf, Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan - have come to a halt. In the case of Yousuf, who was not picked in the 15-man squad, this is very likely the end. The clouds over Malik don't look likely to shift for a while. It is difficult also to see a way back for Naved, such an under-rated part of Pakistan's few ODI successes over the last half a decade.

Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir lie suspended, their careers on the line. Effectively the whole spine of what would conceivably be a first XI is out.

But all that is not to despair, for one fine truism has stood unmoved through the last year and that is the durability of Pakistan's conveyor belt of talent. Consider that the side that played New Zealand in the first Test of the on-going series, in Hamilton, had only one name from the side that took them on in the first Test in the 2009-10 series, in Dunedin - Umar Gul. And they won in Hamilton in three days, by ten wickets.

More relevantly, recent ODI results, in the Asia Cup, and against England and South Africa, reaffirm coach Waqar Younis' belief that the side's primary issue is an inability to kill off contests. That there is feistiness, especially when circumstances conspire against them, skill and ability is not in dispute.

Above all, there is freshness about the squad; for the first time at a World Cup since 1999. Only seven have previous World Cup experience. An opportunity awaits the other eight. Umar Akmal may have regressed but he remains a potent limited-overs force; Asad Shafiq's numbers are unexceptional but his play has something to it; Wahab Riaz has done more in the last six months than many thought him capable of; Ahmed Shahzad might just be the firecracker Pakistan need at the top. They must know that a World Cup hundred, or a World Cup five-for are feats on which entire careers and legends can be built.

The blend seems right. There is also experience: Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq and Shoaib Akhtar were in the 1999 squad. Misbah-ul-Haq, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman have not played in a World Cup but are grey enough to handle much of what might be thrown their way. And there is form. Mohammad Hafeez has rarely looked more an international player than in the last nine months. Razzaq is feeling it. Shoaib, like a true heavyweight, is convinced one last fight remains. Even Kamran Akmal's flimsy glovework can be tolerated if he continues to provide the starts that he did in England.

The pace attack is workable, the spinners solid. There is cover for the opening slots, old and new heads in the middle order and three allrounders. Can there be any serious quibbling over the 15? Twelve, maybe even 13, pick themselves.

Alas, before falling prey to the unnatural temptation to pat the board and selectors on the back, it is to be noted that there is no captain. With just over a month to go to their first match, Pakistan has no leader. It is the kind of thing only the PCB is capable of.

Afridi will captain the ODI side in New Zealand and his chances beyond that would appear to depend on how things go over those six ODIs. The reasons for him not being given security are not yet fully known. His record isn't great and his personal form over the last ten ODIs has dipped. But he has led in incredibly fraught circumstances and mostly without his best players. Has there not been some centrifugal, galvanising force about him in the comebacks against England and South Africa?

Apparently, the board is unhappy with his outspoken ways. The usual murmurs of discontent players float around, though if the administration has learnt nothing of captain-player dynamics over the last year then we really are lost. Some insiders believe his chances to be no more than 50-50.

How can it be wise to change captains just before the World Cup? It is something you could get away with in a mid-70s World Cup, not now. Misbah, vice-captain now, is tipped to step in, and though he has done wonderfully well as a Test captain and batsman, his last act in ODIs was to be dropped. And those two games against South Africa were the only ODIs he has played since September 2009. Preparation, it isn't.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo