The curious case of Pakistan's World Cup 15

They took more time to think about their squad than any other side, but still produced one with a number of points of weakness

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
It wasn't until all 19 other teams had announced their squad for this World Cup that Pakistan formally finalised theirs. Not because it hadn't been on their minds, or because the deadline had crept upon them by stealth. They had been thinking about who they'd send out to the Caribbean and the USA months in advance, with the board negotiating with at least two players - Imad Wasim and Mohammad Amir - to draw them out of international retirement for a final shot at glory.
Pakistan had organised 17 T20Is - as well as a full PSL season - to be played in the months leading up to ensure they didn't want for preparation. They separated Mohammad Rizwan and Babar Azam's opening partnership to break Saim Ayub in with time to spare. They appointed Shaheen Afridi as captain, then replaced him with Babar once more. Everything was geared towards - as chairman Mohsin Naqvi said earlier this year - a "one-point agenda: to bring the trophy home for Pakistan".
It wasn't until the squad - having been delayed till the final hours of the final day - was finally named that the unravelling began. Having been spooked by Ayub's continuing dry run, Rizwan and Babar were back opening for the first time this year in the final game against England - a series Pakistan had eschewed warm-up games in the USA for. Azam Khan's duck and abysmal showing with the gloves that day began to make his position in the side untenable; he was stripped of the gloves against USA, and will likely lose his place against India. Imad should take his place, having recovered just in time from a rib issue, passed fit to play on the eve of the match.
Fifteen is a small enough squad, but Pakistan, having seemingly self-sanctioned, have effectively brought that number down to 13. Opting for a fifth fast bowler in a World Cup whose business-end happens in the Caribbean appeared excessive, but Abbas Afridi was selected for none of the games since making the final cut. Abrar Ahmed, meanwhile, despite being picked as the sole specialist spinner, has not played any of the copious build-up games Pakistan partook in since April.
In Imad's presence, those cracks can just about be papered over, but his injury exposed against USA how inhibited Pakistan's options for balancing the XI were. They locked themselves into a four-pronged fast-bowling attack, effectively committing themselves to four overs from a combination of Shadab and Iftikhar Ahmed; the pair conceded 37 - the joint-most across four overs in the innings. Azam, meanwhile, was sent packing for a golden duck, and Pakistan had Shaheen Afridi coming in as high as No. 8.
While Imad will likely put Azam out of his misery on Sunday, the same bowling combination essentially gives India license to target four overs of spin they know will come from a bowler at rock bottom. Avoiding that means giving Abrar his first game since April, against Pakistan's biggest rivals in a game Pakistan must win to keep qualification for the Super Eights in their own hands.
Pakistan did have Salman Ali Agha as part of the travelling squad in Ireland and England, but axing him from the final 15 in the absence of a fast-bowling allrounder meant they were banking on an injury-prone Imad staying injury free, or Shadab suddenly transforming the allrounder he hasn't been in international cricket for over a year.
In Imad's presence, the cracks can just about be papered over, but his injury exposed against USA how inhibited Pakistan's options for balancing the XI were.
A squad, after all, isn't just a list of a nations' best 15 players as much as a formula of producing several relatively weakness-free 11-person line-ups, and as few single points of failure as possible. For Pakistan, that point is a brittle 35-year-old with a dodgy knee in a squad that carries an extra fast bowler they don't need and a specialist legspinner they don't want. It possesses, in Ayub, the remnant of an experiment they gave up on, and in Azam, a man it would be kinder to drop than keep. It has two fast bowlers who recently returned from long-term injuries, and, in Shaheen, a third who perhaps still isn't quite the bowler he was before he had to deal with knee issues.
Oh, and they take India on at a venue that has seen serious doubts raised about the quality of its pitches, one where India have played a practice game and their World Cup opener. Pakistan, meanwhile, have never even trained at the Nassau County Stadium in New York. In the circumstances, there has perhaps never been a T20I between these two sides where one was so heavily favoured. Even the unpredictability tag feels weary now.
Pakistan took more time to think about their World Cup squad than any other side, with fierce, animated discussions about the final make-up until deadline day. On the evidence of what's happened, though, what they did with that extra time remains, as so much does in Pakistan cricket these days, a bit of a mystery.

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000