Pakistan's captain Misbah-ul-Haq has described the omission of the legspinner Yasir Shah from the team to play Zimbabwe as "strategic" and based upon the well-informed views of the assistant coach Grant Flower.
Amid a range of selection quandaries, including the omission of Younis Khan and the continuing absence of the specialist wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed, the absence of Yasir on a ground famed for aiding attacking spin bowlers in addition to fast men had caused plenty of brows to furrow. Yasir had been played against India in the high pressure opening match of the tournament before being dropped against West Indies.
"We could have gone with Yasir Shah today but it was totally up against the opposition, that's why we just went with four seamers," Misbah said. "Grant [Flower] has worked really for a long time with Zimbabwe and we know they are good players of spin. Today they played Shahid Afridi very well and you could say that was a strategic decision against Zimbabwe, we put another seamer in because they are comfortable against spinners. Maybe if we were playing any other team we could have picked Yasir Shah on this pitch."
The absence of both Sarfaraz and Younis from the team that ultimately squeaked home by 20 runs was explained by Misbah as another episode in his team's wrestle to find the right balance in Australia and New Zealand. It is apparent that Pakistan are reluctant to try Sarfraz as a makeshift opener down under, though he has done so successfully in the past on lower pitches in the UAE.
"We badly want to play Sarfraz but we are in deep trouble," Misbah said. "Our batting is struggling and if we put seven batsmen then we are one bowler short, so that's the kind of problem we are facing. The only thing we can do is that Sarfraz can open, but considering that he opened in a few practice games and it is a bit different from Asian conditions to open in Australia and New Zealand, this is also a difficult decision for us. Let's see in future, maybe we have to do it.
"Regarding Younis, it's really difficult for us in terms of bowling. We need to figure out five bowlers and play with six batsmen, so it's difficult to adjust everything. He's having a bit of a tough time not scoring runs and if you're out of form sometimes pressure mounts on senior players, so I we just talked to him and decided 'Ok let's give him a few games off' and then see when we need him. We haven't written him off because he's the kind of player who could really do well for your team. He's very much part of the team and let's see what he can do."
Pakistan's halting performance against Zimbabwe reaped a decidedly mediocre tally despite a pitch friendly to stroke makers, and Misbah acknowledged far more runs would be required if his side were to prevail against South Africa in the group phase, or any team of similar quality should they qualify for the knockout phase.
"We should be getting used to these conditions but they're not easy," he said. "Especially the top order and whoever is batting at the top with the quality bowling line-ups, two new balls and if you're not confident enough and not in runs it can be really horrible for you. But if we want to win against South Africa and progress in this World Cup we have to come up with some performances otherwise with these teams if you are only putting up 235 it can be really difficult to win those games."