Pakistan central contracts March 20, 2010

How bizarre

The PCB announced much-awaited central contracts for its players on Friday. The fate of players banned after a committee inquiry following the Australia tour over the turn of the year dominated the headlines. Mohammad Yousuf, Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik or Rana Naved-ul-Hasan were not awarded central contracts, but their fates shielded a number of very bizarre decisions taken by the board and selection committee in its picks. Here, in no particular order, are just a few.

Why not Mohammad Sami?

Mohammad Sami hasn't covered himself in any kind of glory over the length of his career and his sudden call-up to the Australia tour was as unexpected as it could've been unpleasant. It wasn't, as an apparently refreshed Sami rattled Australia on the very first morning of the Sydney Test in a frighteningly quick first spell that all but fetched him a hat-trick. And it should have set up a rare Test win for Pakistan.

Additionally, as captain, he led Karachi to triumph in the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy, rattling a strong Habib Bank side in the final, just as he left for Australia. Thirty-eight wickets in the QEA are not earth-shattering, but a trophy triumph and such a heartening return surely merited some kind of reward? Not a top contract, admittedly, but to not even consider him for a stipend, especially when you consider below.

Why Wahab Riaz?

The last time Wahab Riaz played for Pakistan was nearly two years ago. This season he took 14 wickets at over 40 in the QEA. He was nowhere in RBS ODI cup or the Pentangular. He took a few wickets for Pakistan A on their UAE tour in games against the England Lions.

In plain words, how on earth does he qualify for a category C contract, over men such as Sami? Or how about Mohammad Irfan, the left-arm fast bowler who at near seven feet tall at least provides a different threat altogether, and was in many ways the story of this domestic season? Or even below.

Why not Rao Iftikhar Anjum?

Probably because you will not hear him make a noise about it, or hear him canvassing for selection, nobody will be much fussed about the exclusion of Rao Iftikhar Anjum. Honest workhorses are rarely celebrated or rewarded in Pakistan.

But Rao's performance for Pakistan over the last three, pretty terrible years - mostly as a thankless, white-ball first change - have warranted more than this sacking: with over 53 ODI wickets in 34 ODIs he is among the country's leading wicket-takers in that period. He has been an effective and uncomplaining foil to bigger fast bowling names, with added nous than when he first came in.

Maybe he doesn't warrant a starting place in an ODI line-up if Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer and Umar Gul are in (and Gul's form is currently poor enough to require cover) but central contracts are not about the first XI only: they are about building a pool and rewarding consistent performers, reliable and committed players and Rao is nothing if not that.

Abdul Razzaq in category A?

Abdul Razzaq has been a fine player for Pakistan over the years. He could and should have been the latest in a line of supremely accomplished allrounders this country has produced but that he didn't fulfill that is for another day. To find him in category A in this year's list is to suspect the PCB and selectors still believe the hype and potential of the late 90s, when he first made his name.

Razzaq is no longer a candidate in Tests and he seems to have ruled himself out of that format. In ODIs he has been fitful since his return from the ICL and he has batted as if he left behind his skills in the ICL. In the shortest format of the game, of course, he has been vital and was one of the main men behind Pakistan's world triumph last year.

Unquestionably he should be in the pool, but category A? In any case that category seems to say more perhaps about who is not there than who is.

The curious category C

The two men who have long been touted - and selected - as solutions to Pakistan's most vexing problem over the years find themselves on monthly stipends. Khalid Latif has not set the world alight admittedly, but has not disgraced himself in the 50-over game. And he is in Pakistan's squad for the World Twenty20.

Khurram Manzoor, meanwhile, for all his technical quirks has toughed it out for three fifties against solid opposition (two away from home). His last international innings, against Australia in Hobart, yielded a disciplined, brave 77 from one-down.

Why they find themselves below Abdul Rehman and Mohammad Hafeez who are both in category C only those who selected the pool know. Rehman has had a spectacular domestic season and Hafeez a solid one, but the former hasn't played for Pakistan - or been in serious contention after the arrival of Saeed Ajmal - since December 2007. Hafeez last turned out in a Pakistan shirt in October 2007 and is only now a member of the World Twenty20 squad.

Yet the pair are in the same category as Fawad Alam, who is pushing for a starting spot in all three formats, and who, in the shadow of Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer, had a quiet breakout year last year of his own.

And finally...

A point to ponder: the expected annual salary that Shahid Afridi, Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal will earn from their annual contracts - Rs 30 lakh for Afridi and Kamran and Rs 21 lakh for Umar - work out almost exactly to the fines levied on them by the board last week. In effect, the trio will play for Pakistan for no money over the next year.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo