Pakistan will rely heavily on pace when they take on the West Indies in an ODI series later this month in Abu Dhabi. The interim selection committee, headed by former fast bowler Saleem Jaffar, named a 15-man squad with five fast bowlers for the three-match engagement starting November 12.
Shoaib Akhtar, Umar Gul, Sohail Tanvir, Rao Iftikhar Anjum and Abdur Rauf make up the pace options and inevitably, all eyes will be on the first name. Shoaib returned to the national team in the T20 Canada in August, the first time this year he had played for Pakistan after a string of disciplinary scrapes kept him out.
He appeared to be short of full fitness at the tournament but two four-day games for Federal Areas in the ongoing Pentangular Cup have confirmed that he is working his way back. He bowled 22 overs in each game, steadily building up the length of his spells and it culminated in a hostile spell yesterday against Punjab in which he ended with figures of 4-14 from 10 overs, seven of which were maidens. From the two games, he has nine wickets.
"There has been significant improvement in his fitness and bowling since August and even just over the course of the last two games," Jaffar told Cricinfo. "He was very good in this game [against Punjab] where his rhythm was back and his stamina was there too."
A series with India in January was also on their minds. "We want him to be with the team and get back into it because the India series is an important one. He is one of the best bowlers around and we expect him to play a big part in that series," Jaffar said.
The performances of the other fast bowlers so far will bring some cheer to Pakistan. Gul has fully recovered from the rib injury he picked up at the Asia Cup in July, taking 6-39 in his only Pentangular game so far this season. Tanvir was the leading wicket-taker with 11 wickets and both Anjum and Rauf have also been impressive. As a result, no place is available for promising fast bowler Sohail Khan, the domestic find last season.
The rest of the squad, in essence, picked itself. Mohammad Yousuf was included but reports of him joining the unauthorised ICL raised questions about his availability. "Once we get written confirmation from the PCB (that Yousuf has signed up with the ICL) we will name his replacement but it is likely that Khalid Latif will take his place," Jaffar told AFP.
Shahid Afridi's return to some semblance of batting form - domestically at least - helped him retain his place. As the inexperienced Saeed Ajmal is the only spin option, Afridi's leg-spin will also prove handy.
"It's an experienced and balanced side. The team was selected after giving due consideration to the opinions of both captain and the coach," Jaffar said. "It's unfortunate that we didn't play a Test match this year, but hopefully the players will be tuned up with this short series against the West Indies before we take on India.
The only minor concern is over the health of Nasir Jamshed, the left-handed opener who has impressed on several occasions for Pakistan this year. He has just recovered from malaria and will undergo a fitness test before boarding the flight to Abu Dhabi. "He is 99% okay to go and play," Jaffer said. In case he doesn't, Khalid Latif will take his place.