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March 20, 2014
Pakistan have a reputation for unpredictability and for unleashing young talent onto the world stage, but their squad at this World T20 reflects a safety-first approach. This might have something to do with a makeshift selection committee at the helm amid all the administrative uncertainty and legal tussles that have swirled around Pakistan cricket over the last year or so.
Led by Mohammad Hafeez, the world's leading allrounder in the shorter formats, Pakistan's 15-man squad offers a lot of flexibility while being centered around senior campaigners including surprise inclusions such as Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik. Pakistan have four allrounders, three of whom are spinners - a factor that might prove instrumental given the slow pitches.
It remains to be seen where Kamran - if he takes the wicketkeeping gloves from his brother Umar - will bat, whether he will split the opening combination of Ahmed Shehzad and Sharjeel Khan or come in lower down. Hafeez is likely to bat at No. 3 while the middle order, containing Umar Akmal, Sohaib Maqsood, Shoaib Malik and Shahid Afridi, looks potent.
Bowling has usually been Pakistan's strength but their attack, particularly the seamers, has struggled for wickets in recent times. As recently as the Asia Cup, they took all ten wickets only once, against Afghanistan. Pakistan were dented by the absence of Mohammad Irfan, and they have gambled on Umar Gul to bear the strike bowler's burden.
Pakistan's T20 squads, over the years, have had no exposure to the IPL. Hafeez suggested it was a missed opportunity for the players, but it hasn't been a handicap in terms of their World T20 performances. This time around, they are part of the so-called group of death, alongside India, Australia and West Indies, with Bangladesh looking likely to join them.
Given the conditions in Bangladesh you can't think beyond Saeed Ajmal but T20 is all about big runs and hard-hitting batsmen. Sharjeel Khan is the key man in the top order. He is relatively new to international cricket and only has a handful of T20s under his belt but his strike rate of 141.66 suggests he could buy Pakistan a few muscular starts.
Kamran Akmal, who has played all the previous World T20s, is back in the team after a year in the wilderness. He last played for Pakistan in last year's Champions Trophy and last played a T20 international in South Africa in March 2013. His inclusion in the squad is a surprise but it provides him possibly one last chance to re-energise a fading international career.
Pakistan's bowling is full of variety, and 35-year-old Zulfiqar Babar's left-arm spin could spice up the attack. He made a big impact on T20 debut last year, taking 3 for 23 against West Indies in Kingstown. A hand injury halted his progress, but he has returned and could possibly add a left-arm element to a strong spin attack alongside Ajmal, Afridi and Hafeez.
Pakistan had a good Asia Cup, but showed flashes of their tendency to self-destruct against Afghanistan and in the opening game against Sri Lanka. Inconsistency still dogs the side. Fielding too has been a concern, and it has the potential to undo their good work in other departments.
World T20 history
Pakistan have featured in two finals, winning the 2009 title in England and losing the 2007 final, to India, in South Africa. They entered the semi-finals in the West Indies in 2010 and posted a mammoth total of 191 but a famous final-over assault by Michael Hussey on Ajmal cost them a place in their third straight final. They also reached the semi-finals in 2012, but hosts Sri Lanka halted their progress.
As Hafeez has said, Pakistan already have momentum from the Asia Cup, where they pulled off emotional wins over India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The tournament also gave them good exposure to the conditions in Bangladesh and although they lost the final to Sri Lanka, they gained plenty of confidence, with all of their batsmen contributing at some stage.
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Umar Farooq
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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