Mohammad Akram proposes rotation for Pakistan bowlers
With Mohammad Irfan out of the squad after aggravating a hip injury, Pakistan's bowling coach Mohammad Akram has outlined a rotation policy for the major international contests ahead of the team. Akram, who was given a two-year contract, confirmed that Pakistan would focus on managing their bowlers' workloads to avoid injuries.
Rotation is an unfamiliar concept for Pakistan, and teams over the last one-and-a-half years have been selected largely from first-choice players. During Akram's previous stint as bowling coach, he oversaw the international debuts of Rahat Ali, Ehsan Adil and Asad Ali, but none of them has graduated to becoming a front-line bowler. Akram's influence on bowlers like Irfan and Junaid Khan has been evident, but Pakistan's bench strength is thin.
"We have decided to focus on the Under-19 level to get a group ready right from the start," Akram said. "Meanwhile we have realised the need for a rotation policy and both captains [Misbah-ul-Haq and Mohammad Hafeez] should accept and adapt the mechanism and implement it in the long run.
"Irfan is a lethal bowler but it's not like we are overreliant on him. If you remember we won the (ODI) series in South Africa without him. So there are a lot of things we have discussed and we are thinking ahead now, and I can assure there is no sense of deprivation in the dressing room and from the captain."
Irfan's fitness has been a talking point ever since he made his debut in 2010. His longest continuous streak in international cricket came in the UAE last year, when he bowled 65.5 overs in two Tests against South Africa, 13 in a tour game against UAE, and 48 overs in five ODIs against South Africa. During this time, he became an important member of the Pakistan attack.
He was picked for the final T20 against South Africa in Dubai last year despite carrying niggles, and ended up injuring his hip. He recovered after three months of rehabilitation but aggravated his injury during a recent domestic T20 match.
"His [Irfan's] fitness wasn't compromised at all. He was played rightly and was fit enough for the match but injuries are part and parcel of the game," Akram said. "It can't be avoided by the doctors and the bowling coach. What we can do is try and manage the bowlers' workloads."
With Irfan out, Pakistan lack a strike bowler though Umar Gul, who had been out of contention for over nine months with a knee injury, is back in the side following his return for the ODIs against Sri Lanka in December.
"Umar Gul's performance since his comeback has been outstanding and we need to have a senior like him in the team," Akram said. "He just returned from an injury and his still bit wary about taking a full workload, which is natural, especially after a knee injury. We are expecting him to bowl 10 overs in the ongoing practice matches so that he can get back to full flow."
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here