Pakistan's selectors have taken the unusual step of naming a 15-man squad for the ICC World Twenty20 without naming a captain. The squad, which includes Shahid Afridi and the Akmal brothers - players recently fined and put on probation by the board - has also been named well before the ICC deadline for naming final squads.
There are recalls for Misbah-ul-Haq, Salman Butt and Mohammad Hafeez while Hammad Azam, the U19 allrounder, has been rewarded for a fine performance in New Zealand in the World Cup. Little else about the squad is a surprise and as expected Shoaib Malik and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan are not in the squad, beginning in effect the year-long bans handed out to them by the board.
The real surprise is the board not naming a captain. Afridi was appointed Pakistan's Twenty20 captain last year after Younis Khan retired from the format and the board had inked him in for Pakistan's defense in the Caribbean. But after his ball-biting incident in Perth, for which he has now effectively been punished twice by an ICC ban and a PCB fine, the decision is not so straightforward. Malik replaced him for the two T20Is against England in Dubai recently but will not be in the Caribbean.
"We haven't announced a captain and there is slight delay on that," Mohsin Khan, chief selector, said. "The board asked me to name this team without a captain because circumstances are such but I have requested the chairman that in future this should not be the case. The captain and coach make the team fight on the field and the planning has to be done with them in mind. The situation is such. There are 3-4 guys and any of them can be captain. Whoever becomes captain, may not agree 100% with the squad, but he will be mostly happy with the names in the squad."
The inclusion of Butt in the squad suggests he may be one of the players in the running. He hasn't been a part of Pakistan's Twenty20 thinking since June last year and his impact in the format has anyway been limited. On seniority alone, Misbah and Abdul Razzaq are in the frame and despite his punishments, Afridi remains in the running. "The only contenders are the senior players, they know these players, they have played with them," Mohsin said.
Mohsin said he had asked the chairman before selecting the three players on probation. "The three are on probation but that is a check and balance on them. The three are the backbone of the line-up."
Misbah had been dropped from all three formats of the game late last year by the selection committee led by Iqbal Qasim, though he was immediately called up to the squad at the request of Mohammad Yousuf, then the captain. But further failures led to him being dropped from Pakistan's ODI team in Australia.
But Mohsin said his experience - and the presence of Butt - was critical especially in crisis situations. "If you look at his ODI record, we often don't play 50 overs so you need one player, if you lose early wickets, we need one or two guys - like Salman as well - who can carry the team through the end. Misbah is a player who is a senior in all three formats."
Mohsin said he would've preferred to take two wicketkeepers in the squad, but had to settle for one, and Kamran Akmal's batting got the nod, despite his poor work behind the stumps. "He has been a drawback at times I agree," he said. "But this is the World Cup and with the squad we have gone with 90% certainty and 10% risk."
Pakistan beat Sri Lanka at Lord's last June to seal a memorable, unexpected triumph. They are placed alongside Australia and Bangladesh in Group A. "We have picked this squad to the best of our ability. This team is capable of winning the World Cup again.
Squad: Salman Butt, Mohammad Hafeez, Khalid Latif, Misbah-ul-Haq, Fawad Alam, Umar Akmal, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Yasir Arafat, Hammad Azam, Kamran Akmal, Umar Gul, Mohammad Asif, Mohammad Aamer, Saeed Ajmal.
Reserves: Shahzaib Hasan, Mohammad Sami, Raza Hasan, Naveed Yasin, Sarfraz Ahmed.