The unveiling of the Sharjah bound squad on Thursday made it obvious Pakistan cricket was headed into a new era. It showed a desire to groom talented youngsters, who would hopefully go on to become superstars of the future. Except for experienced Rashid Latif as captain, the rest of the side has a very youthful look and seniors like Wasim, Waqar, Saeed, Inzamam have been left out.
Shoaib Akhtar has also been left out, I hope only temporarily, to pave the way in for new fast bowlers Mohammad Zahid and Umar Gul. Shoaib still has a lot to offer and I hope it's just a question of time before he reconciles with his role as a strike bowler and not a showman. The layoff will hopefully have the desired effect.
To analyse the team, it is important to look at each category (batsmen, bowlers, wicket-keeper and all-rounders) to assess the overall quality of the side:
Imran Nazir and Imran Farhat are among the notable exclusions for Sharjah. The former looked an automatic choice but the selectors opted to re-introduce Naved Latif and added in Mohammad Hafeez. Perhaps Imran too needs to be in the cold for a while longer as there are reports of him now being a bit like Shoaib Akhtar or Shahid Afridi after his early successes. Saleem Elahi retains his place in the side, which is only fair as he hardly got a chance to prove himself at the World Cup.
While Naved Latif has played for Pakistan in the past and apart from doing well in recent domestic cricket, his career includes a memorable century against Sri Lanka in Sharjah.
On the other hand, Mohammad Hafeez is a bit of an unknown entity. A 22-year old youngster, who has scored only 251 runs in his seven first-class matches for Sargodha but has been opening and scoring well in the ongoing NBP Patron's Cup one-day tournament. The new chief selector, Aamer Sohail expressed high hopes for him.
Faisal Iqbal's inclusion is a good move, he certainly has shown the talent and mental toughness required to succeed at the top level. Youhana, Younis Khan and Taufeeq Umar, deservedly retain their place in the side.
Aamer Sohail also made a very sensible statement saying that neither Razzaq nor Shoaib Malik would be utilized for the number 3 slot, and that position will be occupied by a genuine batsman. That is a great move, and I am glad to see that common sense has finally prevailed. For me, Yousuf Youhana is the best man for that crucial position, with an average of over 65 batting at number 3.
The Pakistan bowling attack will be facing the greatest challenge, hoping to live up to past brilliance. With the veterans sidelined, the new boys will have to bear the burden squarely on their shoulders. Even Mohammad Sami has a lot to prove after an ordinary domestic season since his return from South Africa, where he really got no chance to prove his capabilities.
Mohammad Zahid makes yet another come back, and his fitness and form will be under severe scrutiny. He looked quite ordinary in the second test match against South Africa, earlier this year, but has done quite well in the domestic circuit.
A most pleasing aspect is the inclusion of Umar Gul. He has had great success in domestic cricket, and is known as a bowler who maintains immaculate line and length.
Najaf Shah and Jaffar Nazir have been left out for the moment, because of the desire to include more all-rounders. This is where I believe that the selectors may have made a mistake. All-rounders are only worth inclusion if genuinely capable of cementing their place in the side as a genuine batsman or bowler, with their capabilities in the other department being an extra bonus. The problem with including bits and pieces players like Afridi and Razzaq, was clearly seen in the World Cup, where they let the side down in both departments. This area will require deep thought on the part of the selectors.
Shoaib Malik makes a return in the absence of Saqlain who was left out, while Abdul Razzaq has been given another chance to get back into form. Azhar Mahmood though, was left out without being given a reasonable chance to prove himself, which is a mystery.
The selectors finally included Naved-ul-Hasan, who has been knocking on the doors of international cricket for quite a while. I am delighted by his inclusion, as he is a very good medium pacer, as well as a talented lower middle order batsman. He certainly deserves a place in the playing eleven, and I hope he gets a fair chance to prove himself.
The tour selection committee must avoid the temptation of going in with too many all-rounders at the cost of the specialists, as this upsets team balance.
Rashid Latif gets another chance with the gloves and captaincy, and I hope he is more successful in his second tenure. It was disappointing to see Kamran Akmal left out, but with Latif appointed as captain, that was always on the cards. However, Latif has promised to prepare a wicket-keeper of the future while he is with the side and even to the extent of sitting out some matches after Sharjah. I hope he manages to do so effectively.
I feel that Pakistan cricket has finally taken a step in the right direction with this new-look side but it is essential to persevere with this plan, rather than hitting the panic button in case they fail initially at Sharjah. Youhana is the ideal choice for vice-captain, and both he and Younis Khan must learn under Rashid Latif, because they will have to take over the reigns once he leaves.
The appointment of the new selection committee was also a good move by PCB and it was pleasing to see someone like Aamer Sohail, who has the passion and the knowledge of modern cricket, at the helm.
I am also hoping that the new team will listen to and learn from Javed Miandad who is coach again. His knowledge and expertise cannot be challenged and with the departure of the seniors, fans can only hope Javed can weld Pakistan cricket together again.
The PCB too must continue to repose confidence on Rashid, Aamer and Javed and help reinforce the mandate that they seem to have given them. They would need to avoid reacting to any early disappointments and bear any external pressure for quick changes to give the new crew a full chance.
Ed: If readers wish to correspond with the author, please email Taha Noor