Gauhar Hafeez to captain Pakistan for U-19 WC
Lahore Eagles batsman Gauhar Hafeez has been named as the Pakistan Under-19 captain for the upcoming Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh. Pakistan, placed in Group B, play their first game against Afghanistan on January 28 at the Sylhet International Cricket Stadium.
Pakistan named six specialist batsmen in the squad, including the top run-scorers of the recently concluded regional Under-19 One-Day Cup - Zeeshan Malik and Umar Barki, who notched up 582 and 442 tournament runs respectively. Legspinner Shadab Khan, who was the top wicket-taker of the tournament with 30 wickets at 7.73, was also included.
"Each one of the squad members is talented and I personally saw some of them growing from the Under-15 circuit," Masroor Ahmed, Pakistan's Under-19 coach, told ESPNcricinfo. "The combination I see according to the condition in Bangladesh I am confident we can produce good results. This is an exciting job to coach the players at this level because they are the future and will lead the country from here.
"I am not entirely involved in the selection process but I know many players, especially from Karachi, but the combination I see is outstanding. We have two genuine allrounders and two solid openers and given the condition in Bangladesh we have flavor in spinning department with a legspinner, left-arm spinner and offspinner. I am looking forward to seeing these players perform at the top level."
The only surprise pick in the 15-man squad is offspinner Arsal Sheikh. Arsal did not play the Under-19 One-day Cup but featured in the Under-19 three-day tournament in October, where he took nine wickets. The selectors, however, have rewarded the two best players from the much deprived FATA region- Barki and right-arm pacer, Sameen Gul.
The squad is currently training in Lahore with NCA coaches, while the newly-appointed coaching staff is expected to join the squad within three days. The team, though, will lack international experience going into the World Cup, as they play just one series before the tournament- a tri-nation series involving Australia and New Zealand in January in Dubai. Nine players picked in the squad were part of the Sri Lanka tour in October, where Pakistan failed to pick up a win.
Masroor, however, was upbeat about his team's chances at the World Cup. "They have been staying together in Lahore and training with the high performance coaches at NCA and I am sure they all are getting what is required," he said.
"Half of the boys had also toured Sri Lanka [in October] this year and they understand the international experience as most of the boys have been overseas with Under-16 teams. All of the boys have been playing cricket continuously and now they are undergoing a reconditioning camp playing training matches so I don't think they will be any problem for them as the conditions in Bangladesh are similar to what they have played most of their cricket so far."
Pakistan Under-19 squad: Gohar Hafeez (capt), Mohammad Umar, Zeeshan Malik, Hasan Mohsin, Muhammad Asad, Saif Badar, Hasan Khan, Salman Fayyaz, Shadab Khan, Umair Masood, Saif Ali, Irfan Liaqat, Sameen Gul, Arsal Sheikh, Ahmad Shafiq.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @kalson