Batsman Iftikhar Ahmed, wicketkeeper-batsman Mohammad Rizwan, and spin-bowling allrounder Mohammad Nawaz have made comebacks to Pakistan’s ODI squad. The three of them were part of the first squad announced by Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s new coach and chief selector, ahead of the three-match series against Sri Lanka that is due to take place later this month in Karachi.
Fast bowlers Shaheen Shah Afridi and Hasan Ali are forced absentees from the squad. Shaheen is out with dengue, while Hasan has been suffering from back spasms. Of the other members of Pakistan’s squad for the World Cup, their last international assignment, Mohammad Hafeez has been left out, and is currently playing for St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in the Caribbean Premier League, while Shoaib Malik has retired.
Iftikhar, who made the last of his three ODI appearances in November 2015, returns on the back of impressive displays in the Pakistan Cup 50-overs tournament, where he made back-to-back hundreds for Punjab. Nawaz made a pair of half-centuries in the same tournament, playing for Federal Areas.
Misbah explained that Iftikhar’s List A batting record, and his ability to bowl a bit of offspin, made him an enticing pick in the post-Hafeez/Malik era.
“Iftikhar has a 51 [51.65] average in List A, he has been a top performer in the last three to four seasons,” Misbah said. “He is, I think, our fifth bowler, and you can utilise him, his fitness is excellent. He is a mature player, he is a three-dimensional player, fielding-wise good, he can do bowling, he can bat, he has 91 strike rate and 51 average and that’s the reason we have brought him [into the squad]. Previously he was not coming into the team became of Hafeez and Shoaib, now he is in the team and he can bowl offspin too.”
Rizwan, meanwhile, was left out of the World Cup squad despite scoring two hundreds against Australia in an ODI series leading up to the tournament, when captain and regular keeper Sarfaraz Ahmed had been rested. He is now back, and possibly not just as back-up to Sarfaraz, with Misbah making a special mention of his batting skills.
“Sarfaraz and Rizwan’s roles are different,” he said. “If someone has scored two hundreds at No. 4, you have a chance. You have the added advantage of having two wicketkeepers, fitness-wise he is very good, and he will be in the loop. We are trying to encourage such players and we will try to give them matches whenever we have a chance.”
Responding to a question on Sarfaraz’s own form as batsman, and his place in the side, Misbah said: “Future is known to almighty only. Let’s give him a chance. Sarfaraz has worked a lot on his fitness. The biggest mistake was that Sarfaraz didn’t give himself a chance to prove [himself] as a batsman. If he gives 100% chance to himself, he is a player who can give you performances. Sarfaraz should not underestimate himself as a batsman.”
Hafeez and Malik, Misbah said, were going to remain in contention for the T20I squad in the lead up to next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.
“Here we had a chance, one or two players [who] were not getting a chance, we should utilise [them],” he said. “Obviously we have a lot of opportunities before the World Cup, we have to go to Australia, we have to make a balanced team, and whosoever is effective we should consider the players.
“Shoaib and Hafeez have performed well in the last ten T20s and we can’t ignore them, but this is the opportunity for other players to show their skills.”