PCB focus on youth for upcoming tours
After Pakistan's early exit from the Champions Trophy, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has decided to extend the selection pool of players and shift focus towards youngsters ahead of picking a squad for the upcoming tours of West Indies and Zimbabwe. Ten cricketers, including Shahid Afridi, underwent fitness tests conducted by a panel of doctors and coaches at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore.
The change in leadership of the PCB, in the form of Najam Sethi for the suspended Zaka Ashraf, has seen a changed persona of the board. The new interim chairman publicly dismissed the culture of "sifarish" [unmerited recommendation] and ordered selection strictly on merit to produce immediate results. He asked the selection committee and coaches to take more responsibility from now on.
The selections for the West Indies tour were nearly settled before the selection panel was given an additional five days by the board chairman, to justify each selection before sending it for approval. The panel, led by Iqbal Qasim, thereafter formed an extensive pool to be tested. The intentions are clear as selectors have been given a free hand to replace the older players with youngsters. They may now think beyond the likes of Imran Farhat, Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal, who fared poorly in the Champions Trophy.
Haris Sohail, who suffered an ankle injury earlier this year, and Raza Hasan, who had major surgery on his spine, are back in contention, along with Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shahzad. Umar was also seen with the wicketkeeping gloves along with coach Dav Whatmore, which means he may be selected as the wicketkeeper in the squad. Mohammad Irfan and Nasir Jamshed, automatic selections over the last eight months, were also asked to undertake fitness tests. Top-order batsmen Sohaib Maqsood from Multan, Sharjeel Khan from Hyderabad, left-arm spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Abdur Rehman, and legspinner Usman Qadir, all featured in a three-hour fitness test.
Pakistan suffered three straight defeats in the Champions Trophy with their batting being their major woe. They failed to cross 200 - bowled out for 170 against West Indies, 167 against South Africa and 165 in a rain-affected match against India to get eliminated from the group stage. Only captain Misbah-ul-Haq hit two half-centuries, while the other senior batsmen Mohammad Hafeez, Farhat, Malik and Kamran performed poorly.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets here