Recall Umar Akmal? Drop Mohammad Abbas? What was Misbah-ul-Haq thinking!

Four eyebrow-raising selection calls from Pakistan cricket's supremo

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Coach Misbah-ul-Haq chats with Ahmed Shehzad during a training session, Lahore, September 18, 2019

Coach Misbah-ul-Haq chats with Ahmed Shehzad during a training session  •  AFP

Misbah-ul-Haq is many things to many people. He was much too old to be captain, and yet led the Test side for longer than any Pakistan captain in history. He was too dour in person, and yet oversaw Pakistan through a period that culminated in them rising to the top of the Test rankings, and never lost a home series during his reign. He was much too defensive as a batsman, but then smashed Pakistan's fastest century in Test cricket. He was a Test specialist, but would captain Islamabad United to two of the first three Pakistan Super League titles.
He was predictable - in that he was often conservative with selection - but also visionary; he was the first captain since Javed Miandad to really attack with spin at home rather than pace. So when he was appointed head coach and chief selector post-haste following the departure of Mickey Arthur and his backroom staff, the decision was generally popular. The assumption was he'd continue to provide the type of leadership that brought such success in his seven years as captain, and with clear-headed decision making his strongest suit, giving Misbah both roles appeared to make theoretical sense.
And while he's experienced a difficult start to his stint results-wise, it is the decisions he's made in his role as chief selector that have set tongues wagging. We look at the most eyebrow-raising ones.
If the Misbah project doesn't work out, many will look to this moment and conclude he was doomed to fail from the moment he made this bizarre call. In the first series as chief selector, at home against Sri Lanka, he called up Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad, a pair of batsmen frozen out under Mickey Arthur, for the T20I leg. It appeared an utterly needless risk; a radically different approach to Arthur was perhaps least necessary in the T20 format, where Pakistan had won 30 of 37 T20Is under him.
The pair, whose exile had followed several disciplinary infractions over the years, failed miserably. Akmal was dismissed for golden ducks in both matches he played, while Shehzad scored 17 runs in his two. They were both dropped for the third T20I, and Pakistan were whitewashed 3-0.
Fascinating and left-field for wildly different reasons. Irfan's recall was in the mould of Akmal and Shehzad's, in the sense that he had been frozen out by Arthur for three years. He was 37, offered next to nothing in the field, and was injury-prone. The first game against Australia, in which he conceded 31 in two overs, showed precisely why he'd been in the abyss for that long. He was better in the second, with 1 for 27 in his allotted four, but what had inspired Misbah to bring him back wasn't remotely obvious.
The days surrounding Qadir's selection were just - weird. Ten days before he was chosen, Misbah had bemoaned the lack of legspinners in domestic cricket, and laughed at the idea that Qadir was a viable option. It was made all the more astonishing for the fact that Qadir had made public his disillusionment with Pakistan cricket and his desire to qualify for Australia instead. All that was swept under the carpet as Qadir became the central focus ahead of the side's departure to Australia. But then, in a double-bluff, he would go on to play no part in the T20I series, in which Australia hammered Pakistan.
The Mohammad Abbas omission
For the Test series against Australia, Misbah named a pace attack that comprised three teenagers (two of them uncapped), Imran Khan (returning after three years out) and Mohammad Abbas. There was no telling how they'd line up in the first Test in Brisbane, and who would take the new ball alongside Abbas.
And then, Pakistan decided they could do without their highest-ranked, tightest, most experienced, and most prolific bowler in the first Test. Pakistan would go with Shaheen Afridi, Naseem Shah and Imran instead. Australia got off to a flier, and won by an innings. Abbas would be recalled for the second Test, but Pakistan would lose by an even heavier margin, and he would go wicketless. It's the thought that counts, though.
Dropping Yasir Shah
Perhaps the most surprising of all, given who it was making the decision. So often reliant on Yasir in his time as captain, Misbah decided Pakistan would go into their first home Test in over a decade with an all-pace attack, something they haven't done at home since September 1995. It seemed like a disastrous call in a first session, when there was only modest assistance for the pacers, and Sri Lanka took lunch at 80 without loss. But the quicks came roaring back in the second with four wickets for 30 runs, and inclement weather and bad light means the game is almost certain to meander to a draw. It would have been fascinating to see if this was a Misbah masterstroke or mistake, but we'll never know now.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000